Film Review: Citizenfour

Unless you’ve been living on a remote mountaintop for the last few years, the names Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden will be very familiar to you. There’s always been conspiracy theories about the power and influence of secret government organisations, shadowy groups and nameless individuals but the publication of documents charting the extent of cover-ups and surveillance was truly shocking. Whilst the flight and attempted extradition of Edward Snowden filled the news channels, little was really known about the man himself.

Laura Poitras is a documentary film-maker and producer. She made My Country, My County about life in Iraq under the American occupation which was nominated for an Academy Award. She then directed The Oath, a film about two Yemenis caught up in the American war on terror. The third of her post 9/11 trilogy looks at whistleblowers and focusses on Edward Snowden. In Citizenfour she is joined by journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill as they meet Snowden in Hong Kong, documenting the process of publishing his revelations.

Whilst we already know what transpired and the information that was released regarding the NSA surveillance of all our communications, seeing it unfold on screen is very powerful. What makes Citizenfour such a riveting film is ‘being present’ as the whole new story enfolded. Snowden is continuously concerned about himself not becoming the story, and it’s a pertinent portrait about a person who puts the truth before personal safety. This is exciting and brave film-making by a director who herself is on the NSA watchlist (with probably half the world). Citizenfour even leaves us with the tantalising revelation of a second source, whose intelligence even raises Edward Snowden’s eyebrows.

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