Despite a profession that trends towards undercover work and anonymity, Laura Poitras has received a fair amount of recognition in the past year. Following an in-depth New York Times article in August detailing her correspondence with former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden, the New School for Public Engagement alumna is set to receive the 2013 George Polk Award in Journalism. Poitras and her collaborators, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, are recognized for uncovering the NSA’s secret surveillance program and distributing documents leaked by Snowden.
Originally from outside of Boston, Poitras, lived and worked in San Francisco for a number of years before moving to New York to pursue documentary filmmaking. She graduated from The New School in 1996. Her films cover a range of topics, but most recently focus on the foreign and domestic policies the United States has enacted since 9/11. Her work has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, in the New York Times, at South by Southwest, and in front of overseas audiences. She’s received many prestigious awards including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012.
In the Times article, Snowden explained why he chose Poitras after initially failing to connect with Mr. Greenwald. “She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given,” he said. Greenwald also credits his partner’s skills and expertise for their success. “None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.”
Poitras currently resides in Germany. Her work has kept her on United States security watch lists for years, making detainment and interrogations a regular part of her travel routine. Since breaking the NSA story from abroad, it is unclear when she or Greenwald (who lives in Brazil) will be able to return to the United States.