Little did she know that the man at the other end of that message was Edward Snowden, a then-anonymous analyst, who had just downloaded thousands of NSA documents that he was planning to release to journalists.
The stories that came out of this leak revealed an international program which saw the US and others illegally monitoring millions of calls, emails, and online messages.
Leaking these reports led to the US charging Snowden with espionage and invalidating his passport, which in turn has seen him taking up the mantle of political refugee in Russia.
This documentary, largely focusing on the eight days in June 2013 when Snowden first shared his story (and files) to the journalists holed up with him in Hong Kong could have been dreadfully dull – a few people sitting around, for days talking about breaches of privacy.
Instead, this film is utterly absorbing and often plays more like a slow burning thriller than a documentary. This is in large part due to both Poitras’ skill as a filmmaker, as well as the feeling that we are witnessing history in the making.
The closeness that Poitras (and by extension the audience) was afforded to Snowden helps to humanise this polarising figure. It reveals an articulate and principled man who is willing to risk his life and freedom for the greater good. It also provides us with a great insight into the mental state of Snowden in the hours that he went from anonymous analyst to world famous whistle-blower.
But while Snowden makes for a great character to study, this story is infinitely bigger than one man. It’s a story about PRISM, Tempora, XKeyscore, Sentry Eagle and Stellar Wind. A story about mass surveillance, about the struggle between freedom and security. The film’s subject matter is something that affects us all, something that we all play a part in, something that we are all living now.
Citizenfour is gripping, well constructed, and well deserving of the praise that has been lavished on it and I would not be surprised to see it winning on Oscar night – a must watch.
- Unprecedented Access
- Timely Subject Matter
- Tense and Gripping