MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2012

Laura Poitras

Documentary Filmmaker


Praxis Films

New York, New York

Age: 48 at time of award

Published October 2, 2012

Laura Poitras is a filmmaker whose elegant and illuminating documentaries capture the lives and intimate experiences of families and communities largely inaccessible to the American media. Following an early career in experimental film, Poitras turned her attention to contemporary social issues, offering insight into complex topics with a unique cinematic lyricism. Her signature work, a trilogy of feature-length documentaries about America’s post–September 11 war on terror, explores the human consequences of military conflict abroad from unusual vantage points, reflecting relationships she forges over months and years of close interaction. My Country, My Country (2006), filmed entirely by Poitras while working alone in Iraq, paints a compelling portrait of Dr. Riyadh, a Sunni physician running for political office in Iraq’s first democratic election, and of a country seeking peace and stability under American occupation. In The Oath (2010), filmed in Yemen and Guantanamo Bay, Poitras contrasts the stories of Abu Jandal, a former jihadist and bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, and of his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, who became the first man to face an American military tribunal. The “oath” in the title refers to Jandal’s initial allegiance to Al Qaeda and his subsequent renunciation of it following 9/11, but it also alludes to the pledge of loyalty to the United States of an FBI interrogator who testifies before Congress against enhanced interrogation techniques. The final film of the trilogy, shot in the United States and as yet untitled, focuses on the personal impact of prolonged international conflict on those abroad and at home. In these and other works in progress, this courageous filmmaker is chronicling some of the most pressing issues of the twenty-first century, particularly the war on terror.

Laura Poitras studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute and the New School. Her additional works include the film Flag Wars (co-director, 2003) and the video installation O’ Say Can You See (2011). Her films have been shown at such venues as the Sundance Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and the San Francisco International Film Festival, among others. 


High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

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