“We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind.”
I’m afraid that as I write down this quote from Laura Poitras thrilling documentary I will be added to the NSA’s surveillance list. That is how paranoid this documentary may make you feel after the two hour nail biting experience. Citizenfour feels more like a spy thriller than an actual documentary because it was being documented in real time as history was being made. I’m no computer wiz and my knowledge is rather limited, but the way things are explained in this documentary makes it easier to follow the story. There are several things that stand out here and despite that slow opening 15 minutes, once Edward Snowden shows up for the first time the documentary begins to take form and the thrills kick in as we realize that we are becoming a witness to the events that occurred in 2013 surrounding the US government involvement in surveillance. Whatever personal opinion we may have about Edward Snowden’s actions, this film gives us the opportunity to understand why he did them.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Citizenfour is that it ends up being a rather interesting and fascinating character study of a man who we’ve read a lot about over the past year and a half despite not really knowing who he was. As opposed to Assange, Snowden really didn’t want to take center stage and he believed the story was more important for the public than his personal life. This inner conflict is captured during the intense Hong Kong meetings between himself, Poitras, and reporter Glenn Greenwald who was the man responsible for breaking the story in The Guardian. I found this documentary fascinating despite not really having cared much for the story when it first broke out. I guess I simply didn’t care about being under surveillance considering there isn’t anything I have to hide, but I understand now the importance of Snowden’s actions and its implications. The risk that he along with Poitras and Greenwald took is heightened in this documentary with the eerie underlying score. Citizenfour is a groundbreaking and thrilling documentary that is worth checking out no matter how you feel about the matter.
What stands out in Citizenfour is the sense of immediacy surrounding the events that have taken place over the past year. We also get a sense of who and why Snowden did what he did. Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras aren’t just concerned about the loss of privacy, but the loss of freedom it implicates because the public will be fearful of sharing their personal opinions. The documentary works like an authentic spy thriller because you get a sense of the persecution and secrecy surrounding their actions while filming and developing the story. Citizenfour is the frontrunner to win Best Documentary in the Academy Awards and deservedly so because it is an intense and gripping documentary that is relevant in today’s world. People who were obsessed with their private information being divulged in Facebook will have a lot more to worry about after this (cellphone, emails, google searches, and so on).