A disturbing article by Glenn Greenwald detailed the continuing harassment that Oscar nominated documentary maker Laura Poitras receives each time she returns from abroad and has her electronic devices seized and probably copied. Now a group of documentary filmmakers have created a petition. They are protesting treatment they feel is an unwarranted invasion of privacy inflicted on hot button filmmakers and made possible in a post-9/11 era that doesn’t even necessitate a search warrant. Greenwald asserts this detainment happens routinely to anyone associated with WikiLeaks, but it also happens with increasing regularity to journalist/filmmakers like Poitras. She was Oscar nominated for My Country, My Country and won a Sundance prize for The Oath. Both were films about the tensions in Middle Eastern countries, Guantanamo Bay, and the war on terrorism. She regularly has her electonic equipment seized and held (sometimes for weeks). The danger is compromising sources, and she and other filmmakers have had to resort to sending sensitive materials through other means.
Last week, when Poitras was detained in Newark and tried to take notes on her interrogation, she was told her pen could be construed as a dangerous weapon and that if she didn’t stop writing, she would be handcuffed. Here is the petition drive organized by Cinema Eye:
April 9, 2012 – New York, New York – Cinema Eye, the film organization that hosts the Cinema Eye Honors and advocates for artistry and craft in nonfiction filmmaking, is releasing a statement today to vigorously protest the Department of Homeland Security’s treatment of our valued colleague, Laura Poitras.
The letter is signed by the full Cinema Eye Executive Board as well as our Filmmaker Advisory Board, of which Poitras serves as Chair. The letter is also signed by 25 Cinema Eye nominated filmmakers, including five Academy Award winners.
Statement from Cinema Eye on Laura Poitras:
As members of the nonfiction filmmaking community, we want to express our outrage over the ongoing harassment of our colleague Laura Poitras by the US government and the Department of Homeland Security. We call on the Obama administration to investigate this abuse of power and to bring an end to this persistent violation of America’s bedrock principle of a free press.
Laura Poitras is one of America’s most important nonfiction filmmakers, the recipient of the 2011 Cinema Eye Honor for Outstanding Achievement in Direction for her landmark film, The Oath, and the chair of our Filmmaker Advisory Board. She was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar and twice has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her work. Her long list of credits, awards and impeccable credentials would be easy for anyone to verify.
Over the course of the last several years, as Laura has been working to chronicle the post-9/11 world and the effect of American policies here and abroad, she has been repeatedly harassed, detained, interrogated and has had her cameras and computers seized by Homeland Security officials as she attempts to re-enter her home country.
Not once in more than three dozen detentions and interrogations has Homeland Security found anything to justify this chronic abuse of power.
Within the last week, as Laura was returning from a recent trip abroad, she was once again detained. This time, however, she was also threatened with being handcuffed for attempting to take notes during her interrogation.
Nonfiction filmmakers perform a vital role in a democratic society, serving as observers and investigators of the world around us. It is unacceptable for any American nonfiction filmmaker or journalist to be treated in this manner. They must be able to return to their own country without fear of arrest or fear that their work product will be seized, solely because they are investigating or chronicling subject matter that may be sensitive or controversial.
We ask other members of the nonfiction film and journalism communities to protest this affront to a free press and we reiterate our call on the Obama administration to end these draconian and un-American policies once and for all.
Cinema Eye Honors Executive Board
Cinema Eye Honors Filmmaker Advisory Board