Alex Gibney, James Marsh, Davis Guggenheim and Louie Psihoyos are among the Oscar-winning documentarians backing a letter from doc organization Cinema Eye in support of The Oath director Laura Poitras (pictured), after a report emerged claiming that she is being frequently detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while traveling abroad.
The letter comes after news site Salon published a story on Sunday (April 8) claiming that Poitras has been detained by the DHS “virtually every time” during the roughly 40 occasions she has left and re-entered the U.S. over the past six years.
The post, by Glenn Greenwald, states that on each occasion she is detained, DHS officers “interrogate her at length about where she went and with whom she met or spoke,” and that the director has had her laptop, camera, and cellphone seized and not returned for weeks, as has also had notebooks seized and copied.
In a statement, Cinema Eye said that such treatment of Poitras – who is chair of the organization’s Filmmaker Advisory Board – amounted to a “chronic abuse of power.”
The statement specifically mentions an incident that allegedly occurred within the last week, when Poitras was returning from a trip abroad and was once again detained. “This time, however, she was also threatened with being handcuffed for attempting to take notes during her interrogation,” it says.
The statement adds that Poitras is one of “America’s most important non-fiction filmmakers.” She has won a Sundance award for The Oath, was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for My Country, My Country, and twice has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her work.
“Non-fiction filmmakers perform a vital role in a democratic society, serving as observers and investigators of the world around us,” the Cinema Eye statement said in closing. “It is unacceptable for any American non-fiction filmmaker or journalist to be treated in this manner. They must be able to return to their own country without fear of arrest or fear that their work product will be seized, solely because they are investigating or chronicling subject matter that may be sensitive or controversial.”
The letter is signed by the Cinema Eye Honors executive board – consisting of Sean Farnel, Andrea Meditch, Esther Robinson, AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell – and the Cinema Eye Honors Filmmaker Advisory Board, consisting of Marsh, Mila Aung-Thwin, R.J. Cutler, Sam Green, Steve James, Ellen Kuras, Audrey Marrs, Morgan Spurlock, and Jennifer Venditti.
In addition, a host of well-known documentary directors have also signed the letter, including Lise Lense-Møller, Tia Lessin, Jeff Malmberg, Darius Marder, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri, Bill Ross, Turner Ross, Chris Shellen, Bruce Sinofsky, Geoffrey Smith, Ricki Stern, Paul Taylor and Marina Zenovich.
Salon said its requests for comment from the DHS and the U.S. and Customs and Border Patrol went unanswered. The DHS did not respond to requests for comment from realscreen.
UPDATE: APRIL 12, 2012
More than 60 additional filmmakers have added their names and support to Cinema Eye’s letter, including five more Oscar winners (Simon Chinn, Peter Davis, Ross Kauffman, Barbara Kopple and Michael Moore), and directions such as DA Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus and Annie Sundberg.