In January 2013 Laura Poitras, an American documentary film director and producer, started receiving anonymous encrypted e-mails from “CITIZENFOUR,” who claimed to have evidence of illegal covert surveillance programs run by the NSA in collaboration with other intelligence agencies worldwide. Mind you, they were aimed at ordinary people – not terrorists or criminals – American and foreigners alike. Five months later, she and reporters, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The resulting film is history and drama unfolding before our eyes.
It was one heck of a documentary, presented in a very simple, almost boring form and yet having the tension of the best spy movie. You watch an interview with a young guy in a t-shirt, wearing square, nerdy glasses, conducted in a generic hotel room by two middle-aged reporters. You watch encrypted e-mails running along a computer screen. There are snippets of CNN and other TV news included. From time to time you get also a gorgeous skyline of Hong Kong. At first glance it should be as fascinating as watching fresh paint getting dry. The strange thing is the more ordinary it seems the more you are dragged into the story. Finally you cannot stop watching – as if it was the best, most exciting thriller. Well, maybe it is. It is based on facts which concern all of us.
Edward Snowden. Most probably you know the name and you remember the story. He revealed dirty secrets of NSA, his former employer. Hero of the People or Enemy of the State? Ultimate Patriot or a slick, double-faced Russian spy, currently hiding in Moscow? A courageous Whistle-Blower or Guilty of Treason? The core of the film is really an intimate look at the man who, being acutely aware of the coming fallout, proceeded with pulling the curtain back on NSA actions that he deemed inappropriate. Ms. Poitras very wisely allowed every viewer to form their own opinion about the whole affair.
According to Mr Snowden our ordinary privacy is being abolished – not just eroded or diminished but abolished – for no good reason. In its place you find something like a colossal digital new Stasi, driven by a creepy intoxication with what is now technically possible, combined with politicians’ infatuation with bullying, snooping and creating mountains of bureaucratic prestige for themselves at the expense of the snooped-upon taxpayer. A martial law for intercepting telecommunication is being created by stealth, despite the bland denials up to and including President Obama, whose supercilious claim to have been investigating the issue before the Snowden revelations simply rings hollow.
As Snowden says: “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind”. I am sure both Hitler and Stalin, along with a couple of other dead dictators, are turning in their graves, shaking with laughter. Democracy is being defeated by the darkest autocratic urges of a hadful and nobody seems to be overly concerned – nobody who matters anyway.
It was a fascinating film that made me, personally, very uncomfortable. Still, I think I am going to watch it again soon. It made me also re-evaluate the chain of events surrounded Snowden and his exceptional move. Overall I suppose it is one of these eye-opening documentaries which should be viewed by every intelligent person – in their own best interest. Do you own a smartphone? A computer? A laptop? A tablet? Watch this movie.