Laura Poitras

Filmmaker and documentarian Laura Poitras took an unflinching look at life in America and the impact of the war on terror in a series of critically acclaimed and award-winning feature documentaries, including "My Country, My Country" (2006) and "Citizenfour" (2015). Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1964, Poitras initially wanted to become a chef, and trained as a cook at a French restaurant in the city's Back Bay district. However, after graduating from high school at the experimental Sudbury Valley School, her interest turned to filmmaking, which she studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. Poitras completed her higher education at the New School for Public Engagement in 1996. She completed her first film, a short about celebrity obsession titled "Exact Fantasy" (1998) before teaming with filmmaker Laura Goode Bryant to co-direct and produce her first long-form documentary, "Flag Wars" (2003). The film, about a conflict between working-class African-American families and white gay homebuyers in a Columbus, Ohio neighborhood, won a Peabody Award in 2003, as well as an Emmy nomination for its broadcast on the PBS series "POV" (1988- ). In 2006, Poitras began a trilogy of films focusing on the world post-9/11; the first in the series, "My Country, My Country" (2006), about Iraq under the occupation of U.S. forces, was nominated for an Oscar. A follow-up, titled "The Oath" (2010), followed the lives of two Yemeni men who had worked in a peripheral capacity for Osama bin Laden and their lives as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Like its predecessor, "The Oath" won critical praise, as well as the Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. But according to Poitras, both films also placed her in the crosshairs of the Department of Homeland Security, which she claimed had monitored her since 2006 and subjected her to wiretaps, watch lists and on several occasions, detainment by government agents. Undaunted by these alleged threats, Poitras commenced work on a series of interviews with former National Security Agency intelligence official William Binney, who claimed that he had been engaged in spying on U.S. citizens at the request of the government since 2001. The interviews, originally intended for a full-length documentary that would complete Poitras' 9/11 documentary, were eventually released as a short film called "The Program" (2012), as part of a forum of independent documentaries sponsored by the New York Times. The following year, Poitras was one of the first three journalists to meet with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong; she received a full set of the documents leaked by Snowden, and later helped to produce a series of stories on U.S. intelligence for the Washington Post and The Guardian, among other newspapers. She reunited with Snowden in 2014, which led to the production of "Citizenfour" (2014), a documentary about his involvement in the spy scandal and Poitras' own interactions with Snowden. The film, which completed her 9/11 trilogy, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2015.