By Nimra Amir, October 24 2023—
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, was presented for free by the volunteer-run charity Creative Aging Calgary Society at the Globe Cinema on Oct. 8. The movie shared an emotionally interconnected story of art and activism by following world-renowned artist and activist Nan Goldin in her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid overdose epidemic.
In 1996, Purdue Pharma introduced a prescription opioid painkiller called OxyContin. The moderately-priced drug which was advertised as non-addictive became the ‘go-to’ prescription for anyone, rich or poor, seeking pain relief but without any of the scary side-effects that are usually associated with that type of drug. By 1999, the drug with alarming indications of chronic addiction had been found to be linked to a rapid escalation of deaths by overdoses — with nearly 645,000 people having died between 1999 and 2021 in the United States by overdose involving opioids like prescription opioids and illicit opioids. But the effects of Purdue Pharma in the opioid overdose epidemic go far beyond this if one considers not only the families and friends of those who have died by overdose but also those who still struggle with opioid addiction like Goldin.
It is despite these effects that Purdue Pharma had in the opioid overdose epidemic that the owners, the Sackler family, were able to hide behind their philanthropy in the art community with plaques and wings dedicated to them in museums like the Louvre or Gutenberg.
The movie is structured in chapters, each of which begins with a photographic sequence or archival footage reminiscent of Goldin’s work like The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which follows Goldin — who previously used her art in activism during the HIV/AIDS crisis — as she further uses her art in activism in the opioid overdose epidemic. For example, after 2017, Goldin founded the advocacy group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) to protest museums for their collaboration with the Sackler family.
It is through these slideshows of ground-breaking photography and rare footage which documented the LGBTQIA2S+ subcultures, as well as intimate interviews with Goldin and other PAIN members throughout the movie, that we get the sense that Goldin has been able to triumphantly accomplish what she has through her art and her activism — even in face of politicians or billionaires — because she does not let the stigma of the sensitive topics she covers such as sexuality or addiction stop her.
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