No matter what your take is on Edward Snowden – traitor or patriot – one thing’s for sure, you’ll be riveted (and perhaps horrified) by the revelations in Laura Poitras’ latest documentary “Citizenfour.” The film chronicles the series of meetings between Poitras, acclaimed political journalist Glenn Greenwald, and “The Guardian’s” Washington-based defense and intelligence correspondent Ewen MacAskill, and subject, Edward Snowden over an eight-day period in a hotel room in Hong Kong. After viewing this film, you may never view your technological gadgets in the same way again.
As most are now aware, Edward Snowden was the whistleblower who informed the world about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) questionable surveillance practices. Snowden knew these practices firsthand as he worked at Booz Allen Hamilton and was loaned out to the NSA as a contractor. Everything that Snowden worked on was classified and much of it had to do with surveillance. Was it illegal to publically leak the documents and information he acquired over his term with the NSA; yes. But, Snowden states in the film that he believed that what he and the NSA were doing was wrong and illegal. Snowden would rather risk prison than for the public to lose civil liberties and personal freedom.
As an event that many of us have read about hundreds of times over the past year, “Citizenfour” still plays like a fresh suspense thriller. Over those fateful days, Poitras and Greenwald are mindful in crafting this story and know that the careful release of information will blow the lid off the NSA’s indiscriminate surveillance tabs on the mass public. And for Snowden there will be no going back.
Simple interruptions of phone calls or hotel fire alarms take on an ominous tone as Snowden recounts incendiary information to the reporters. Equally unnerving is when Snowden gets a call from his Hawaiian based girlfriend, having no idea what he’s up to, as she talks about people coming to the house looking for him.
Poitras smartly tries to keep her documentary balanced. As Snowden reveals a certain bit of information, the filmmaker cuts to news footage from political hearings where NSA officials dispute Snowden’s claims. There are various news reports, presidential quotes, etc. that quickly spell out that Snowden is no patriot but rather a traitor to our country (he is charged as a spy not a whistleblower under the Espionage Act of WWII). Other interviewees, like William Binney who served as Technical Director at NSA, claim otherwise.
Viewers will need to make their own conclusions. But whatever the viewpoint, “Citizenfour” is an important film where the disclosures from Snowden are still rippling out into the world.
“Citizenfour” is 114 minutes, Rated R and opens October 24, exclusively in Los Angeles at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles.