ACADEMY AWARD WINNER: BEST DOCUMENTARY
WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
The story of how Edward Snowden revealed for the first time bombshell proof that the U.S. government is routinely and secretly engaged in domestic spying. [Dir: Laura Poitras/ 114 min/ Documentary/ Fourth Amendment, Search & Seizure]
If a documentary can also be a thriller, this is it. This film tells its story from the perspective of director Laura Poitras — from the first email she received under Edward Snowden’s enigmatic codename “Citizenfour,” in which he revealed that he was an NSA whistleblower from hell about to release proof of unconstitutional wholesale invasions of privacy; to their first clandestine meeting, in a Hong Kong hotel in which they together orchestrated, in coordination with journalist Glenn Greenwald, the release of Snowden’s documents; and finally to the aftermath of Snowden’s escape and exile.
It’s history told in real-time, a telling made up of clips that Poitras recorded in the moments when it was actually happening. It’s clear this is the way Snowden wanted it–maximum exposure through news outlets and through this documentary–no doubt as much to insure his personal safety as to get the word out.
Two things you get from this film. First, it sheers off whatever patina of cool the Obama administration still had. It’s the Obama administration that Snowden is accusing of wrongdoing, it’s the Obama administration that he is afraid of, and when the documents are released it’s Obama’s talking heads and Obama himself who come out to try to spin the story. Second, Snowden is a genuine hero. He is sincerely fearful that we are moving in a potentially irreversible authoritarian direction and he has made a great personal sacrifice to do something about it. He may be an imperfect hero, like all heroes before him, but his courage and daring are without question. There is a moment when he is asked if anything should be done to shield him from exposure. He replies with conviction, in the tone of someone who knows the thorny path to which he has committed himself and is determined to carry it through, “No…Put a target on my back…Nail me to the cross.” The analogy is not lost, given the situation. Over the brief course of the events told in the film, I noted the circles under Snowden’s eyes darkening. No doubt his subsequent exile in Putin’s Russia has also taken its toll. He has made a great sacrifice for all of us.
This is a well-made documentary that deserves the highest accolades, not only for what it is, but for the risk borne by those who made it, and it will leave you walking away chilled to realize how far down the path of fascism we have recently traveled. It’s rated R, but that reflects only the hilariously-flawed MPAA standards; it was scored R for language, based on an occasional use of the F-word. Don’t let that deter you from taking your kids to see it–they are the ones with the most at stake in this mess.
External Reviews of Citizenfour
“Riveting, as well as the most indispensable documentary of the year…”
“Citizenfour is a gripping record of how our rulers are addicted to gaining more and more power and control over us – if we let them.”
“Snowden documents a world in which the NSA routinely collects cellphone conversations from millions of Americans, along with their email and records of their other online activities, and consigns all of it to a huge NSA data-storage lair in Bluffdale, Utah. Woven together, this information tells highly detailed stories about blameless private citizens, to be used later, perhaps, for purposes not yet devised.”
“One of the major and defining documentaries of recent times.”
–The Hollywood Reporter
“No amount of familiarity with whistleblower Edward Snowden and his shocking revelations of the U.S. government’s wholesale spying on its own citizens can prepare one for the impact of Laura Poitras’ extraordinary documentary Citizenfour.”
“For the pure, driven Snowden, you must see Citizenfour…focusing on the eight days in June 2013 when Snowden first spilled his and his computer’s guts to the three journalists in his 10th-floor room at the Mira Hotel, this is a fascinating, edifying and creepy record of history in the making…Citizenfour is, at heart, a portrait of a man at the moment he chooses to change Americans’ understanding of what their government knows about them.”
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“But nobody had more to celebrate than the team behind Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ up-close look at Edward Snowden, which became the first doc ever to win both NYFCC and Gotham awards on top of receiving Spirit Award, IDA and Cinema Eye Honors noms.”
–The Hollywood Reporter
“CitizenFour just won the Gotham Award for best documentary, just hours after winning the New York Film Critics Award…The doc about Edward Snowden by Laura Poitras has made $1.5 million at the box office. Now it’s sweeping awards season.”
“It’s also worth noting that both the Gotham voters and the New York Film Critics Circle honored Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden.”