Directed by Laura Poitras
Are you a fan of F For Fake? Looking for the ultimate political documentary that, similar to F For Fake, will stand the test of time due to its relevance to society? Look no further then, as the nicely crafted truth-is-stranger-than-fiction Citizenfour delivers. Privacy, the actions of world governments, the internet, bravery… That is what this film brings to the table and they will remain relatable for a long time.
When Edward Snowden’s videos were first released, I hadn’t been into any of that conspiracy stuff for a while. However, when I was younger I had a long phase of being obsessed with finding out the truth – even if the truth I wanted to find was impossible to find without doubt – geo-politics was what fascinated me, mainly the US government and numerous European governments’ actions, many regarding the rights of their own people. I then got a life and pursued other, more productive interests. Then this scoop came, and suddenly I found myself dragged back into that pit, that obsession with reading and following everything I could. I still to this day semi-regularly will have a look online to see the latest. Or more to the point, to see if he is still healthy.
An opposite view wasn’t quite established, which at first seemed like a massive flaw in a political story such as this (much like the abysmal Green Prince). In all fairness though, they were given the chance, and each time the way they tripped over their own lies regarding this NSA scandal was hilarious. Due to the large scope and documented proof of their government’s actions, and because they are politicians, there is no legitimate argument. They can’t admit to it, but since we all know it is true, all they can do is entertain us. with their lies. My favourite was, in response to the question “Does the NSA collect data on millions of Americans….) to which the answer was “Not wittingly”. Ha! I think I heard a small ripple of laughter in the room!!
A simple structure, the film is a combination of behind-the-scenes like footage from the time Snowden spent in Hong Kong to prepare his story for journalist Glen Greenwald, and filmmaker Laura Poitras, with snippets of news reports, laughable government denials in court sessions, and secretive conversations over the internet – the latter creating an atmosphere that is extremely apt for the movie and the levels of paranoia that are mostly unspoken but definetely apparent. In fact, as the story unfolds and more is revealed, not only does it become more interesting, it also coincides with a definite sense of dread and rising paranoia. Several key scenes show this urgency, such as having conversations half on paper, assuming the room is bugged. The use of silence and imagery without words is used to great effect here, again adding to that paranoia but also creating an emotional bond with the viewer as the camera lingers on Snowden, tapping away at his laptop. There is nothing to hear but the tapping of keys as we watch him sitting on his bed. We are told later the nature of the email. The paranoia is real and can be felt – Glenn’s (not unwarranted!) nervous looking reactions, the feeling of dread that comes with a simple incoming phone call. Filming this as it happened, rather than in retrospect, was easily the best way to go as it takes you back to when the story happened. There is much more tension involved, rather than a cast of talking heads being interviewed.
Snowden’s revelations are strong enough to be the material for a spy-novel, easily – as many joke about in the film – and it is told with enough finesse and style to become the material for a fantastic feature-documentary. The creep-factor rises as later in the film we see NSA bases in Germany, the ‘Dagger Complex’, and also the UK base, which looks more like something to do with UFOs. Hopefully, this grabs the attention of those perhaps unaware of what Snowden did. And that is where this movie really focuses: what Ed did, the repercussions for his decision to go public because it was the right thing to do, despite all the insane risks involved. He threw away his old life to reveal this information for our benefit. If that doesn’t make the man a saint, what does? Those labelling him a traitor are truly lost in a time and era that no longer exists, or have unfortunately fallen under the spell of commercial media and consider the actions Snowden is speaking out about as somehow protecting US citizens. Very, very, very fucking hard to believe, that one.
Another in a recent wave of political documentaries (Maidan,The Square), it is different as it is instantly relatable to the modern, western world. Documentaries about uprisings in the Middle East, while fascinating and great to watch, aren’t too popular. Their message political, couldn’t be more different. One hopes that this films message reaches as many people as possible, as this is a global issue and it will not cease to be a problem in the near feature. It really is a must-watch simply for the amazing information contained within, which often left me shocked, mouth hanging open. Not to mention that Ed Snowden is an amazingly brave person who has put his life at risk to speak out, and it has resulted in this fine film surfacing over a year, probably closer to two, after he first met with the filmmaker in person, after being contacted online by Snowden using the codename Citizenfour. We can only hope that this true patriot inspires others to wake up and look around, and realise that not everything is exactly as they see it.
4.5/5 – I expect many people will look at the internet in a very different way after watching this! It is fairly creepy in what it reveals (if you weren’t already aware) and the mood for this is set perfectly from the opening lines. This is fairly by the books as far as docos go, but it has enough interesting ideas thrown in with the insane story to make it a riveting watch. Our privacy is an important thing, and we all must stop being unsurprised at the often illegal actions of different world governments. Its relevance makes it something that simply must be seen.
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