If you followed the news last summer, you at least know this whistleblower is a historical and controversial figure. For those who aren’t aware, in June 2013 Edward Snowden revealed classified NSA documents implicating the U.S. intelligence in unconstitutionally tracking millions of American citizens. Some thought of him as a hero, but others a traitor to the nation looking for notoriety. However, in the documentary “Citizenfour,” directed and filmed by Laura Poitras, Snowden comes off as unselfish and valiant. Although a little one-sided, it’s a picture worth painting.
Released internationally in October, the film “Citizenfour” begins with the story of how Poitras was contacted by Snowden, who took up the film’s namesake as an alias. His plan all along was to unveil the truth to trustworthy media personnel fighting similar battles. It is truly fascinating to watch as the very conversations Snowden and Poitras had are typed out on the big screen, including dramatic pauses when the curser blinks unmoving, while the audience waits with baited breath.
Little by little, the viewers meet other members of the media contacted, like Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. All four of them gather in a ritzy Hong Kong hotel where they discuss the documents that Snowden stole while he was employed by Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, contract firms for the NSA.
We see little of Poitras (because she is filming during the eight days) but much of Greenwald and MacAskill, who interview Snowden and sometimes just watch him as he paces the hotel or covers himself with a red sheet while he enters his passwords. When the NSA can easily crack a 10-character password in a few short days, it’s imperative that Snowden err on the side of paranoia.
Of course, he’s being a bit extreme, but the film’s intent is to reveal, first-hand, the emotional, physical and mental states he endured to unveil the NSA’s collection of metadata: phone calls both incoming and outgoing, cell tower GPS coordinates, emails—collected with a wide net to entangle many unsuspecting fish. As Snowden says to Greenwald at one point in the movie, “It’s not science fiction.”
And it’s true. The situation is as real and thrilling as the film itself. The tension builds like a crescendo, only letting off slightly toward the end, despite the fact that most know Snowden made it to Russia.
Ultimately, this is a film worth watching. It’s powerful and exhilarating. More importantly, it’s intellectually stimulating and will make you want to have meaningful discussions about whistleblowers, civil liberties and technological privacy. But make haste. Independent films don’t run long, especially in theatres like the Tivoli at 4050 Pennsylvania Ave. Purchase tickets by calling (816) 561-5222 or through http://www.tivolikc.com. “Citizenfour” will run at 2:15 p.m. Dec. 1, 2, and 4.