It’s difficult to talk about Citizenfour without saying something that has not already been said about Edward Snowden. This is perfect, because as he puts it best himself: “Who I am really doesn’t matter at all.” Snowden is clear in the film that focusing on his personality and actions is an easy way to become distracted from the issues that led to his decision to leak classified information from the NSA to a small group of journalists.
As an American, I too was splashed with the media’s turkey baster following the decision to charge Snowden with three felonies in June of 2013. What’s significant about Citizenfour is, it really starts to dig through the meat and bones of the topic. The film, which is constructed from the first Snowden interviews, focuses on his data and reasoning rather than his character or the Espionage Act of 1917.
Director Laura Poitras had already been making documentary films that confronted national security when Snowden made the decision to approach her. After additionally hand-picking a small group of journalists, Snowden agreed to meet in person to share the data he had collected which is where the film picks up: a hotel, Hong Kong, China.
The interviews are chilling to say the least. Ideally, the Hong Kong location would buy Snowden some time as the information was being released to the public but you get the sense from his behaviour that someone could come through the door at any moment. At one point, he ducks under a blanket with his laptop to enter some passwords when the phone starts to ring. For a moment the room is beyond silent. To be safe, Snowden disconnects the phone. He explains that it can be used as a recording device as long as it’s connected to a network. Over the next eight days Snowden and Poitras would routinely meet with the press to sift through the files that he’d collected. Meanwhile, the stories were being published and the NSA had begun their search for their mysterious whistleblower.
While the film doesn’t use actors, it’s a very human response to start identifying the personalities we meet as either good or bad but the focus should be the information. If what Snowden is suggesting is true, and the NSA is actually monitoring our phone patterns, internet searches, bank activity . . . then we should be spending our time becoming more educated about privacy and internet security so that when we have an opportunity do something about these data collection programs, we have the tools and the knowledge to initiate a positive change. Citizenfour premieres in theatres on Friday, March 20.