This recent documentary focusing on the photography and activism of Nan Goldin is both a portrait of an artist’s life and an inspiring journey. The film also creates a cause for rumination on the responsibility of the artist. Goldin left home at an early age and learned to survive on meager jobs and her economic artistic endeavors. Her early photographs document the era of post-punk, gay bars becoming bases of activism, and the lifestyle of the Bowery neighborhood in the late-’70s to the ’80s. She presented her photographs in signature slide shows. Her premiere slideshow presentation, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, became an ever-changing body of work curated by Goldin. At the time, slideshows were the standard of documenting a family vacation. In Goldin’s hands the slideshow becomes an inherently subversive hum as her photos reveal life in the margins. She photographed her world and served the lives of largely ignored people in underground communities whose lifestyles were often criminalized by the mainstream. Goldin’s photographs demonstrate the urgency surrounding her.
The film follows Goldin’s life up to the present while simultaneously covering the modern-day minutiae of her more recent activity as the leader of an activist group challenging museums accepting donations from the Sackler family. The name Sackler has long been associated with major endowments to large museums, but behind this curtain, their production and aggressive marketing of the drug Oxycontin has been a major part of the opioid crisis in America. As the documentation of her life closes in on more modern times, the timelines blur as Goldin continues to protest against museums taking money from the Sacklers. Many of these museums have been key in the exhibition of Goldin’s work, but Goldin doesn’t even speculate on giving them a break. Her activism escalates. As threads of the film converge, the cause and effect of her background and accomplishments show a full portrait of who she is. The more her protests cause problems for the museums and embarrass the Sackler family, an uplifting element in the film comes into play. As Goldin’s group chokes museums into submission regarding their Sackler donations, one can’t help but derive hope as a message. –Billups Allen (Praxis Films)