I went to see CitizenFour last night. This review contains some minor spoilers which I don’t expect to detract from your experience of watching the film; something I highly recommend you do. Checkout the list of screenings here.
I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’d been keeping up to date with the information Edward Snowden had released to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald already, as has most of the world. Similarly, I had read a lot of reports on the way Edward carried out this act; from leaving family behind without a clue of what was about to happen, to ensuring his actions resulted in people focusing on the leaked information, not the whistle-blower.
Intellectually, I knew I was going to see a documentary, not a Hollywood movie. Not having seen any of Laura’s previous documentaries, I expected something similar to Revolution OS. Rather than the dry, informative script, however, I was given glimpses, in so far it’s possible to capture them on film, of his reactions to life unfolding before him.
The moment he first made contact with his girlfriend after the first news report; the concerned bemusement of his rent payments being cancelled; the quip that his boss probably realised he wasn’t sick at home.
But beyond these examples, Laura captured the essence of what it might feel like to be the orchestrator of what is likely the largest public interest action in recent history. The person who gathered, collated, and handed over information to be released to the public. Edwards words are, in my mind, unquestionably supported by his passion and body language, when he states that the only responsible thing to do was to turn the information over to the media. It would be they who would become the arbiters of what needs to be released, free of his own bias.
The documentary did a great job at setting the scene; first contact, security protocols, secret handshakes (well, not quite). We hear from other key players in the movement to provide transparency to the issues, including Dr. William Binney. Those who know me know that I’m never one to shy away from trying to outline the issues and concerns at stake, and to be honest, it sometimes feels like an uphill struggle against the “I’ve done nothing wrong” and “you’re paranoid” retorts. If that sounds like you too, go see this documentary, and feel the benefit of being validated by those who’ve been there, those that have been subject to National Security Letters, those who are routinely stopped and detained for hours at airports. It’s great to hear other people’s method of communication; it may help you refine yours.
As we watch Dr Binney on stage at HOPE conference, talking to the delegates, the movie pauses, and we’re evacuated due to a fire alarm. Jokes abound regarding the NSA seeking to stop this screening. Amusingly, later in the film, a similar event occurs at Edward’s hotel. Their concerns of NSA involvement are founded in much more reality that our previous quips.
The film provides a great insight in to the mechanics of a man who wants to do right by his fellow people; American and otherwise. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that time-lines are becoming uncertain. How long will it take the American government to work out who the whistle-blower is? When should he step in to the public eye? How long can he stay where he is? What are his options for his own personal privacy and security?
While watching Glenn talking to news reporters on TV, being interviewed shortly after publishing his first of many stories, you can almost feel Edward’s moment of realisation. After years of planning, it had begun. His words, his wishes, were being enacted. The public was learning that which he already knew, and just just the tip of the iceberg at that. I could sense a mixed feelings of relief; relief that he was able to get the ball rolling, and perhaps also relief that there was no nothing that he, or anyone could do to stop that ball. Whatever may come, whatever his future, this was happening. I wouldn’t call it a moment of serene acceptance; more acknowledgement that a shit storm that was about to kick off, and that’s okay.
The documentary moves on to prepare for his departure from Hong Kong, which causes Edwards extreme concern, and offers the viewer a few moments of amusement as he engages in methods to hide his physical identity, in order to pass through public spaces unnoticed, illuminating again the healthy mix of humour, and an appreciation of the gravity of his situation.
I’ll leave that for you to watch yourself, though. Seriously, it’s a must watch.