Monday, October 13, 2014


Citizenfour screened on October 10 and 11 at the New York Film Festival. It opens in theaters on October 24.

Huddled in a Hong Kong hotel room, Edward Snowden and the three journalists he handpicked to release his incendiary evidence about the massive spy networks used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to gather information on everyone in the United States and millions more abroad discuss how to get their news to the public. Snowden wants to come out publicly as the source of the information, he says, to show the NSA "I'm not going to let you bully me into silence, like you have everyone else." Yet he doesn't want to enable the media to turn away from the damning information he compiled to make him the story, focusing on who he is and why he blew the whistle. In Citizenfour, Laura Poitras shows how Snowden and his print collaborators, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, succeeded in doing just that. As the third of the journalists chosen by Snowden, the one documenting his story on camera as it unfolds, Poitras also teaches by example, providing a privileged insight into Snowden's personality and motivation while keeping the focus on government spying.

The director, who calls this film "the third part of a trilogy about America post 9/11" (the other two are her films My Country, My Country and The Oath), outlines the extent to which the U.S. government spies on its own citizens and the risks associated with that spying with the clarity and persuasiveness of a gifted trial lawyer. Though she occasionally uses title cards to convey information, she avoids other overused and often stultifying documentary devices like talking heads, infographics, reenactments, and voiceover narration, conveying her copious facts almost entirely through judiciously edited footage of conversations, Senate hearings, TV news reports, courtroom trials, and other person-to-person interactions. Her insider status grants her access not only to the hotel rooms in which Snowden and his collaborators conferred for eight days, but to scenes like Julian Assange talking to a colleague about how to get Snowden to safety and a team of journalists at The Guardian sifting through the information Snowden provided.

At the same time, watching Snowden in his hotel room as he talks to the reporters, follows the story as it erupts on TV, and emails the live-in girlfriend who doesn't yet know where he is or what he's doing creates a spy-movie sense of suspense and plays to our hunger for a human-interest angle. Read the rest on Slant Magazine

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