Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: "Citizenfour" Records the Revolution

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

[A version of the review first appeared on Patreon.]

Citizenfour (2014)
Running time:  114 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Laura Poitras
PRODUCERS:  Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, and Dirk Wilutzky
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras, and Katy Scoggin
EDITOR:  Mathilde Bonnefoy
Academy Award winner

DOCUMENTARY – Politics, Society

Starring:  Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Ewan MacAskill, Jeremy Scahill, Jonathan Man, and Julian Assange with Laura Poitras and Barack Obama (archive)

Citizenfour (stylized as CITIZENFOUR) is a 2014 documentary film from director Laura Poitras.  The film focuses on Edward Snowden, who provided the information that revealed the illegal wiretapping of American citizens' communications by American intelligence agencies.  Citizenfour won the Oscar for “Best Documentary Feature” at the 87th Academy Awards (February 22, 2015).  Oscar-winning director, Steven Soderbergh, is one of this film's executive producers.

Citizenfour's narrative begins in January 2013 when documentarian Laura Poitras receives an encrypted email from an unknown person who calls himself “Citizenfour.”  He offers her inside information about the illegal wiretapping practices of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies.  The NSA was recording and observing the phone calls of American citizens beyond the scope of what the U.S. Congress had authorized.

In June 2013, accompanied by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter, Ewen MacAskill, Poitras travels to Hong Kong for the first meeting with Citizenfour, who identifies himself as Edward Snowden.  Edward Joseph Snowden works for the CIA via his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, a job that gives him access to highly sensitive and classified information about the wiretapping practices of the NSA, both in the U.S. and abroad.

On Monday, June 3, 2013, Poitras uses her camera to begin filming what would be a four-day interview, in which Snowden reveals to Greenwald and MacAskill the details of domestic surveillance of American citizens.  When Snowden's information becomes “breaking news” around the world, however, none of the participants in this interview feel safe in The Mira, the Hong Kong hotel where Snowden is staying.

Although it chronicles a momentous time in American history, Citizenfour is strangely quiet, even intimate.  This movie is not an all-encompassing survey of domestic surveillance and spying; it is the story of the first quiet days and then, frantic weeks when Snowden whispered the sour nothings that fully revealed the deceitful face of the American government.  It is as if Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald said to us that we, the people of the United States, should finally, finally and really pay attention to that man behind the curtain.

Even if one is familiar with Edward Snowden and the furious sound of his whistle-blowing, Citizenfour still feels shocking.  Perhaps, this is because Poitras is recording the revelations and the resulting media and political fallout in real time.  This immediacy makes paranoia seem like a more than sensible and reasonable state of mind for any American and even for the rest of the world.

Citizenfour is one of the best films of the year (2014), and it is probably the most important film of the year.  Poitras proves that the documentary and the non-fiction film narrative are more important than ever.

9 of 10

2015 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win “Best Documentary, Feature” (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky)

2015 BAFTA Awards:  1 win “Best Documentary” (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky)

Monday, September 7, 2015

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