During this year’s Academy Awards, there were a few moments when real world events forced there way through the thick wall of self-obsessed stardom that typically surrounds Hollywood. One of these moments came when filmmaker Laura Poitras won the award for the best documentary for her film Citizenfour – a film about Edward Snowden, former National Security Agency analyst who turned whistleblower. During her speech, Poitras said the following:
The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistleblowers. And I share this with Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who are exposing truth.
The very fact that Poitras was in the country to accept the award was somewhat of a protest in itself. For years she hasn’t returned to the U.S. for fear of being detained – as she has been dozens of times in the past – and being prosecuted, not only for her current work about Snowden, but also because of her earlier work as a journalist and filmmaker covering the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Citizenfour was the third part of what Poitras calls her “9/11 trilogy”, following the films My Country, My Country and The Oath.
After the award show, Edward Snowden released a statement through the American Civil Liberties Union. He wrote:
When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.
For those who have not seen this film, what Snowden writes is true. Citizenfour is a fast, tense, thriller of a documentary from the opening scene, when Poitras reads an encrypted message from Snowden after he first contacts her about leaking the documents:
From now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, article you write, site you visit, subject line you type is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.
Citizenfour captures the vastness of the NSA’s surveillance program, one whose purpose the government actually says is to “collect it all, process it all, exploit it all, partner it all, sniff it all” and, ultimately, “know it all.” Citizenfour is a damning indictment of the oppressive and violent system we live under, and the limitless extent the government is willing to go to crush dissent and eliminate any obstacles to the U.S. domination of the globe.
In the film we see the moral outrage of a lifelong U.S. patriot, a loyalist who breaks and realizes he can no longer justify his participation or even his passive acceptance of what the government is doing. In the film, Snowden describes the government’s program as: “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind.”
This is a film everyone should see, an important film, one that captures the urgency in what Snowden writes: that ordinary people must work together to change the world.