Poitras: My interest isn't in transiting my opinions through my films. The films are subjective. I do make choices. I do stay close to protagonists, rather than doing interviews with experts to contextualize everything. But I'm primarily interested in the human drama of things and letting that come across in my work. I'm a huge fan of Glenn Greenwald, who takes no prisoners in his writing. I'm a huge fan of Michael Moore. But I think it's a question of voice. I have a different voice.
Friedersdorf: Most people aren't dissenters. Has being a high-profile dissenter affected your relationships? Have your family or friends expressed surprise at the path you've taken? Do they worry about your safety and happiness?
Poitras: I've been surrounded by incredible support by friends, family, and the documentary community. There are people in that community who know and value the work I'm doing, and if things ever got bad there are people who would stand up and defend it.
That's also been true of the funding I've gotten. When I first decided to make a film about Guantanamo, I had this idea of going to Yemen and finding an innocent person who was swept up returning home and trying to document their experience of reintegration after returning from the prison. That was the story I wanted to tell. When I got to Yemen, I was introduced to Osama bin Laden's former body guard, who was driving a taxi cab. It wasn't at all the story I was looking for but I was fascinated by it. Why was this guy who was so close to Bin Laden driving a taxi? How do we understand this when we know that there were people who had no direct association that had been at Guantanamo at that point for eight years?
The story made me nervous, because it was hard to pin him down, to know what he stood for, but I was fascinated. So I thought, I'm not going to ignore the story, I'll keep filming it.
Lawrence Wright writes about it. He was this guy, Abu Jandal, who was in Yemen on 9/11, he was detained and interrogated by Ali Soufan from the FBI six days after 9/11, when they read him his Miranda rights. This interrogation was so significant that they delayed bombing Afghanistan, they held off, because of the information coming out.
So in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the moment when you'd think the sort of violence we saw later at black sites might be most likely to happen, you have Bin Laden's bodyguard, an interrogator with colleagues who had died in the rubble on 9/11, and they read him his Miranda rights. And the interrogation informs this report that provides enormous amounts of intelligence. It proved that traditional interrogation works, and raises the question, what if they'd have kept going in this other direction? But when I started following him, a guy who was Bin Laden's driver instead of someone just swept into Guantanamo, I thought all my funders were going to run in the other direction. And it was the opposite. I had institutional support from so many organizations. There's a sense that my work is contributing to an understanding of the the post 9/11 era, and people want to support that. And my friends haven't stopped contacting me because they don't want to get caught up in my association grid. Because let's face it, I have one.