April 18, 2024

Filmmaker Linked to Leaks Has Her Own Stories to Tell

“She warned me that she was on a watchlist, and that she would be pulled out of the line,” he said Tuesday in an interview. “And sure enough, she was.”

Last week, Ms. Poitras, 49, emerged as the pivotal connection between the former government contractor Edward J. Snowden and writers for The Guardian and The Washington Post who published his leaked documents about government surveillance. But she has a much longer history as a filmmaker trying to show on screen how the world has changed since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Her first two films in that project — “My Country, My Country,” set in Iraq after the American invasion, and “The Oath,” about a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner and his brother-in-law, who once worked as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard — garnered critical praise and apparently the attention of the United States government.

In an interview Wednesday from a hotel in Hong Kong, she described herself as unexpected player in the Snowden leak. “This is not something I was seeking out,” she said.

Mr. Snowden first reached out to her in January, she said, telling her that he had read about her regular border detention and saw it as “an indicator that I was a person who was ‘selected,’ ” that is, someone who would be familiar with what it is to be watched by the government. “He knew it was a subject that would resonate with me.” (He had also seen a short film about domestic surveillance, “The Program,” she made for The New York Times.)

Ms. Poitras, who won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2012 and was nominated for an Oscar for “My Country,” was already living and working outside the country. After six years of being detained at the border — “upwards of 40 times, probably more, I lost count” — and having her laptop seized, her notes copied, she relocated to Europe.

“It was good timing in that way,” she said Wednesday.

But in addition to her tense relations with her government, there was another, more practical reason Mr. Snowden connected with her, she said. She was able to begin an untraceable discussion with him — as he insisted — because she was familiar with encryption technology.

“The number of journalists who know how to use it is very small,” she said. “You wouldn’t have been able to communicate with Snowden without encryption.” Ms. Poitras said that because of her experience reporting on national security matters, she had a public encryption key that allows someone to begin a confidential discussion online. That key, she said, “wasn’t easy to find, but it wasn’t hard to find someone to ask me to provide it.”

And Mr. Snowden did, she said.

Still, the way Mr. Snowden’s leaked document about Prism — the National Security Agency program that collects data from online providers of e-mail and chat services — was published is hardly typical. Both The Guardian and The Post wrote about a top-secret slide presentation on Prism at roughly the same time; for the Post article, Ms. Poitras shared a byline with Barton Gellman, whom she knew from their time together on a fellowship at New York University and contacted in February.

Later, for a profile on Mr. Snowden in The Guardian, Ms. Poitras shared a byline with Glenn Greenwald, a civil liberties writer she knew from the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Ewen MacAskill, a Guardian reporter.

In the interview, Ms. Poitras declined to elaborate on how the two stories came about. According to the Guardian’s account of how the news broke, Mr. Snowden tried during the winter to contact Mr. Greenwald directly, then Ms. Poitras interceded with Mr. Greenwald and “convinced him that he needed to take this more seriously.”

She also shot the 12-minute video in which Mr. Snowden explains his motivation for leaking. It has been viewed 2.5 million times, according to The Guardian, since it was posted over the weekend on the newspaper’s Web site.

Ms. Poitras also sought to deflect attention from herself and her role. “I have received a zillion e-mails,” she said.

“We are in the middle of an unfolding story, we don’t know where it is going, there are real stakes, real dangers, and my bio is just not that important,” she said, citing the recent government investigations of journalists at The Associated Press and Fox News.

But, as should not be surprising for a struggling documentary filmmaker who has had to generate interest in her films, she has given plenty of interviews about her life.

Born in Boston, Ms. Poitras told the Web site Still in Motion that she started out as a chef. “I did French food for about 10 years, working at very, very fancy places in San Francisco,” she said. She learned film in the avant-garde tradition at the San Francisco Art Institute and later came to New York to study at the New School.

While her work today is much more realistic, she told Still in Motion what she has retained from her avant-garde teachers: “You were the artist and you made your own film — as the cinematographer, the director, the producer, the way you cut it, etc., but, totally noncommercial.”

Cara Mertes, the director of the documentary film program at Sundance, where “The Oath” had its premiere in 2010, cited a number of documentaries, including the recent “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the United States military, that are driving public interest and ultimately the news coverage.

Speaking of Ms. Poitras, she said, “In a lot of ways, the news has caught up with the story she is trying to tell.”

Ms. Poitras now finds herself amid the hustle and bustle of a global breaking news event, but still has her camera out and a personal vision of the story she wants to tell — and, she says, it will be very different than the way a newspaper would tell it.

The Snowden interview will be part of her next work, “a film, which is not coming out tomorrow, or next week,” she said. “It is going to take awhile.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/business/media/filmmaker-linked-to-leaks-has-her-own-stories-to-tell.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: Time’s Health Care Opus Is a Hit

Publishing a 36-page cover article called “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” certainly didn’t seem like a shameless attempt to bolster newsstand sales for Time magazine.

But the 25,000-word article that Steven Brill wrote for the magazine’s March 4 issue appears to be on course to become its best-selling cover in nearly two years. Ali Zelenko, a Time spokeswoman, said the issue sold more than double the typical number of copies.

It was outperformed only by Steve Jobs, Osama bin Laden and special issues of Person of the Year and the royal wedding. It also broke online records, selling 16 times more than an average week for digital single copy sales and digital subscriptions and becoming the most viewed magazine cover article on Time.com.

The managing editor, Richard Stengel, expressed relief at the response.

“Was I worried it would not be the world’s greatest hit? Yeah. It’s really struck a nerve and captured lightning in a bottle,” he said. He added that the response also indicated that long-form journalism was still in demand.

The most surprising attention came from younger readers on social media who are less immediately concerned with medical bills. The article was shared 100 times more often on social media than the average Time article in 2013, and the #BitterPill hashtag was mentioned nearly 6,000 times on Twitter.

One reader wrote on nytimes.com, “This is the only time in my life that I have been interested in buying Time magazine. I’m 30. I’m unsure whether this bodes poorly for them, or well. Maybe I’ll find something I like and give it a chance?”

Mr. Brill said he was still receiving 50 e-mails a day from readers, and that many of those readers were in their 20s. His appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” he said, seemed to help increase his readership among a younger audience.

“These people in their 20s really care about this stuff,” said Mr. Brill, who added that at least one reader disclosed the costs of his hospital bills when he was injured riding his bike in New York City.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/times-health-care-opus-is-a-hit/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: Book Will Describe Raid That Killed Bin Laden

The day after, local residents and the news media gathered at the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed by United States forces.Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe day after, local residents and the news media gathered at the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed by United States forces.

3:38 p.m. | Updated A detailed first-person account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, written under a pseudonym by a member of the Navy SEALs who participated in the mission and was present at bin Laden’s death, will be released next month, the publisher said on Wednesday.

The book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden,” which is scheduled to be released on Sept. 11, has been a tightly held secret at the publisher, Penguin. It promises to be one of the biggest books of the year, with the potential to affect the presidential campaign in the final weeks before the election.

The author’s name will be listed as Mark Owen by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin. For security reasons, he used a pseudonym and changed the names of other SEAL members.

A former member of SEAL Team 6, the author was a team leader in the operation that resulted in the death of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. According to a description of the book provided by the publisher, the author gives a “blow-by blow narrative of the assault, beginning with the helicopter crash that could have ended Owen’s life straight through to the radio call confirming Bin Laden’s death,” and is “an essential piece of modern history.”

Penguin officials would not say to what extent the book was vetted by government agencies. Colonel Tim Nye, the chief spokesman for the military’s Special Operations Command, said he would reserve comment until he had an opportunity to read the book.

The author also recalls his childhood in Alaska, his grueling preparation to become a member of the SEALs and other previously unreported SEAL missions. He completed 13 combat deployments since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and retired within the last year.

A co-writer, Kevin Maurer, is the author of four books and was embedded with Special Forces in Afghanistan six times.

The book could get caught up in the politically charged arena of the presidential campaign. That’s what happened with another planned narrative account of the raid, a film by Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty.” That film was originally scheduled for release in October, but was moved to December after Republicans said it would help dramatize one of the president’s signature achievements right before the election. The project also prompted complaints from some Republicans that the administration had provided improper access about the raid to the filmmakers, a charge the White House denied.

In August 2011, The New Yorker published an account of the raid that was so detailed it included information about what the pilot of a Black Hawk helicopter was thinking as the aircraft was on the verge of crashing. That article relied on interviews with officials who had debriefed members of the SEALs team, not with the individuals themselves.

Bookstores were first given a few clues about the book last month. One independent bookstore owner said in July that she was told only that Dutton had added a “big, major book” written by an anonymous author to its fall list.

Members of Dutton’s sales staff were given a detailed description of the book during a conference call with executives on Wednesday.

The publisher is expecting a major best seller, with a planned print run of 300,000 copies in hardcover, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Because the book is written under a pseudonym, the author will appear in disguise during television interviews to promote the book. At least one major network prime-time appearance has been planned, a person familiar with the plans said, and during interviews on television and radio, the author’s voice will be altered.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/navy-seals-book-will-describe-raid-that-killed-bin-laden/?partner=rss&emc=rss