Thursday, March 22, 2007

Laura Poitras makes films to question power

Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras spoke to Centenary College students today during a convocation. She will be the guest at this weekend’s Louisiana Film Festival, which begins Friday (March 23).

Poitras shared some compelling remarks. It’s not often that students (or me, for that matter) get to hear from an Oscar nominee.

Poitras’s “My Country, My Country” was nominated in the 2006 best documentary category. It focuses on one Iraqi doctor’s role in Iraq’s election process. It was shot in 2004 and 2005.

At the convocation, she screened her short film “If I Die Here,” which shows the doctor trying to get information about prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. At the time of her filming -- just three months after news of the prisoner abuse scandal broke -- 2,300 prisoners were being detained without charge, she said.

“I don’t consider myself a war photographer,” Poitras said. “I don’t want to go to conflict zones and make films about people who have suffered.”

She talked about cinéma vérité, a style of documentary filmmaking that follows news, stories or conflicts as they unfold. (In other words, none of those annoying dramatic recreations of past events.)

“We’ve been trying to understand human nature and the choices we’ve made for centuries,” Poitras said. Her Iraq films look at people pressed to make decision during extraordinary circumstances.

She said she works “to make films that ask us to question power.”

She referenced images of the Holocaust and how important those became to our understanding of the scope of WWII. “If we didn’t have those images after Auschwitz, I don’t think we as a society would have struggled as much with what happened,” Poitras said.

I highly recommend “My Country, My Country,” and I hope to see her “Flag Wars.” The latter will be screened 7 p.m. Friday (March 23) in Kilpatrick Auditorium.

LOUISIANA FILM FESTIVAL: STUDENT DIVISION
WHEN: Friday-Saturday (March 23-24).
WHERE: Centenary College's Kilpatrick Auditorium, Woodlawn Avenue and Kings Highway, Shreveport.
COST: free.

Friday
2:30 p.m.: festival check-in and registration.
3 p.m.: screening session 1 (narrative).
5 p.m.: screening session 2 (documentary).
6 p.m.: dinner break.
7 p.m.: "Flag Wars" screening with guest filmmaker Laura Poitras.

Saturday
9:30 a.m.: festival check-in and registration.
10 a.m.: screening session 3 (animation and experimental).
11 a.m.: workshop with guest filmmaker Laura Poitras.
12:30 p.m.: lunch break.
1:30 p.m.: screening session 4 (regional showcase).
2:45 p.m.: screening session 5 (narrative).
4 p.m.: awards ceremony.

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