The night before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 95th annual Oscars, Howard Gertler ’96 didn’t sleep very well.
Gertler loved film growing up and was “bitten by the bug to produce” after a summer internship in college at the production company Good Machine. A concentrator in the School of Public and International Affairs and a managing editor of The Daily Princetonian, Gertler took the LSATs as a backup plan in case his first job as an assistant production coordinator didn’t work out.
Flash forward to this year, when the nominees for Best Documentary Feature were announced, and Gertler heard his name alongside the rest of the production team for their film, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.
“It was really gratifying for me,” Gertler says of the nomination. “I was excited for the rest of the team, and for the story to get the spotlight shone on it that an Oscar nomination brings.”
All the Beauty tells the story of Nan Goldin, an artist known for photography documenting the LGBT community, especially during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Activism has always been prominent in her work, though she escalated that profile in recent years: Goldin says she became addicted to Oxycontin following surgery, and she founded the group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) after surviving a near-fatal overdose.
The film documents PAIN’s protests at art museums around the world that housed galleries named after the Sackler family, whose wealth stems from the profits of their company, Purdue Pharma, which makes Oxycontin. Thanks in part to PAIN’s activism, the Sackler name has been removed from several prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris.
“I knew the work that she and PAIN were doing, and I was amazed and cheering it on just as a viewer from the sidelines,” Gertler says. He had previously been nominated for an Oscar for the 2012 documentary, How to Survive a Plague, about the work of AIDS activist groups ACT UP and TAG, and he recognized some of their strategies in PAIN’s protests.
Gertler and Goldin met during an interview for another documentary project he was working on, and she asked for his advice on how to make a film about PAIN’s work. Gertler later signed on to produce the documentary. “I was really honored for her to say that she would want to work with me,” he says.
All the Beauty hadn’t been screened for an audience until its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. The audience loved it, and the film was honored with the prestigious Golden Lion award, becoming only the second documentary in the festival’s history to receive it.
“I do think that in our industry, awards are meaningful to a film’s profile — more people hear about a film that gets awards than not, for sure,” Gertler says. “But you can’t really make films for awards. You just have to make the film that you want to make and hope that it connects with people.” He added that awards can reflect how audiences are responding to the film, and he’s grateful this one has resonated with people.
The Academy Awards ceremony will be held at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on March 12. Gertler says the nominated team will walk the red carpet with members of PAIN, but he hasn’t decided yet what he will wear or which afterparties he will attend. “The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy being with other filmmakers,” he says.
Watch the trailer for All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: