IDFA ’22: Laura Poitras x ICFR Panel Discusses Documentary Makers at Risk – Realscreen | Episode Movies



Of all the panels at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) 2022, none combined star power and urgency like Laura Poitras x ICFR: Filmmakers at Risk, part of IDFA’s industry programme.

The discussion was moderated by Poitras (pictured second from left), Guest of Honor at IDFA 2022. She was joined on stage by Comra Films’ Sara Ishaq (pictured second from right); Vanja Kaludjercic (pictured right), festival director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR); and IDFA Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia (pictured left).

The topic of discussion was the recently formed advocacy group International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), founded in 2020 by IDFA, IFFR and the European Film Academy. The panel began with a keynote address from Team One Productions producer Moataz Abdelwahab, who was imprisoned in his native Egypt for more than two years.

“I’ve dreamed of this moment for two years, and thank you all,” he began. “I’ve been in prison for 25 months, 772 days. But let’s not get into painful details. First of all, allow me to thank ICFR, Orwa, my partner Sherouk Salousa who sits there and others who I don’t necessarily know personally for all the support they have given me and my family during this time.”

Abdelwahab went on to talk about the importance of artists documenting their time and their own experiences, even if it means suffering for it.

“In my experience, I now firmly believe that creativity comes from suffering,” he told the audience. “And as the French poet de Musset said, ‘Nothing makes us great but great pain.'”

Poitras began her story by noting that she had it pretty easy compared to filmmakers and journalists who have been imprisoned, tortured, or worse.

“I’m hesitant because I feel my case isn’t as extreme or as urgent as the ones we’ve gathered here [here] to talk about it,” she said, describing her experience filming in 2006 my country my country, portraying an Iraqi family during the US occupation of Iraq. Once, when the family had to move to the roof of their house because of explosions in the street below – “which was happening all the time, it was a daily occurrence,” Poitras noted – the filmmaker followed them with her camera, which changed their situation radically, when she was spotted by a passerby US military patrol.

“I was seen with a camera on the roof. Related to [that]the U.S. government has decided to place me on a terrorist watch list for a counterintelligence investigation into me.” Poitras said, noting that she now knows most of this information because she sued the US government to get her FBI files (which were mostly redacted).

“I was considered a national security threat for holding a camera in one country. And in response, I’ve been arrested every time I’ve traveled in and out of the United States,” she continued. “I had my notebooks photocopied, my electronics were confiscated. And after that I did the NSA story with Edward Snowden [for the film Citizenfour] and broke the story about global national surveillance.

“I commend the US government for giving me some very good skills, because I’m very good at encryption, so I’m grateful to them for those skills,” she remarked wryly.

Jokes aside, Poitras went on to describe a frightening close encounter that not only could have changed her life forever, but potentially had a major impact on the US government’s approach to filmmakers and journalists uncovering uncomfortable truths .

“I now know that the CIA was considering reclassifying me, me and me [Poitras’ Citizenfour collaborator] Glenn Greenwald as an information broker, not as journalists, so they can then prosecute and monitor us,” she said. “Ultimately they decided not to do that. But that same reporting uncovered a much more pressing case of US attacks on press freedom, namely Julian Assange, who the US is currently seeking to extradite from Britain and who is facing indictment [against] him for publishing truthful information about US war crimes in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently faces 175 years in US prison. For being a publisher.”

IFFR director Vanja Kaludjercic then read a letter from Turkish producer and filmmaker Çiğdem Mater, who was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison not for making a film, but for making a film prepare to make a film about the protests in Gezi Park in 2013.

“If you look at the world today, it’s actually not that shocking,” Mater wrote from the women’s prison in Istanbul, where she was held. “From Tehran to Budapest, Kyiv to Moscow, Kabul and refugee camps, our stories and circumstances are quite similar. At a time when racism and discrimination are on the rise around the world, we find the strength to keep making films despite all the evil.”

IDFA’s Nyrabia bemoaned the fact that the nature of ICFR, between its limited resources as a fledgling organization and the nature of many of these issues, means it has no choice but to be a reactive rather than a proactive entity.

“Unfortunately, we’re trying to keep an eye on it [on things] and we keep in touch with many colleagues around the world to see, for example, who might be in extreme danger tomorrow morning. And the number of these colleagues is huge, and this organization has to wait in the most painful way for things to happen before they can campaign,” he explained, calling the situation “a very, very interesting and difficult challenge”.

“If you call me and say, ‘I could be locked up and tortured tomorrow,’ I will tell you, ‘Yes, call me back if that happens.’ It’s absolutely awful. We have no solution.”

For more information about ICFR, including ways to support the organization, Visit his website.

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