CITIZENFOUR Documentary – IFC Preview Screening Oct. 23
Q + A w/Director Laura Poitras
By Lisa Reznik
Laura Poitras was greeted with a standing ovation at the Oct. 23 preview screening of her new documentary CITIZENFOUR at IFC Cinema in New York. “I’m happy to be in New York as part of our world tour,” Poitras told the cheering crowd.
CITIZENFOUR is an authorized portrait of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed vast electronic surveillance by the United States government. The movie’s title comes from Mr. Snowden’s self-designated code name when he began communicating with Laura Poitras and sharing copies of leaked National Security Agency documents.
“The government has no constitutional right to go into, or collect communications of U.S. citizens. There has to be probable cause and a court order,” Poitras told the audience in her introduction. “Edward Snowden has exposed a major crime on the part of the US government,“ she stressed.
CITIZENFOUR is the third installment of Poitras’ 9/11 trilogy. Her 2006 documentary, My Country, My Country, about life for Iraqis under U.S. occupation, was nominated for an Academy Award.
In January 2013, Edward Snowden contacted journalist-filmmaker Laura Poitras using encrypted e:mail under the alias “citizen four” to meet him in Hong Kong where he would share what he has learned about the NSA intercepting data from Americans via e:mail, social media, Internet searches and text messaging Journalist Glenn Greenwald was also invited.
By February, they were exchanging e:mails, Poiras told the audience, “My gut was convinced by early February, “ Poitras said. “Right before going to Hong Kong, I was convinced about Snowden but his motivation for disclosing the NSA’s surveillance was unknown,” she said.
The film was shot during eight days in a Hong Kong hotel room as Edward Snowden began revealing secrets of the N.S.A, and wrestled with the implications of his leaks.
CITIZENFOUR is full of tension. When Mr. Snowden first meets the journalists, he’s nervous as he explains his rationale. Much of the film explores conversations between Mr. Greenwald and Edward Snowden. Mr. Snowden tells us he wishes to take public responsibility for his actions. Ms. Poitras does not appear on the screen in this expose-style documentary. We hear her voice as she films and as she reads e:mails sent to her by Mr. Snowden.
“As I saw the promise of the Obama administration betrayed, and walked away from, it really hardened me to action,” Mr. Snowden says in the film, referring to drone strikes and invasive monitoring by the N.S.A.
The footage of Mr. Snowden is framed against shots of Mr. Obama and members of his administration at first denying the existence of domestic surveillance, then promising a review of programs, and finally insisting on prosecution of Edward Snowden who is currently in Russia for one year where he is seeking political asylum due to the cancellation of his passport by the U.S. government. Officials from the Obama and Bush administrations have defended the NSA, promising Americans that our rights are being respected.
Laura Poitras, a U.S. citizen who lives in Berlin, has been subject to monitoring by the U.S. government. She believes there has been a reduction in the level of surveillance on Americans by the U.S. government since Edward Snowden exposed the NSA monitoring.
At the end of the film we are told another unidentified government surveillance whistle-blower exists. While some may find Mr. Snowden’s actions offensive, the question remains: to what extent should the government collect intelligence in the fight against global terrorism, and violate our right to privacy?
When the film takes us to the sights in Idaho and Great Britain where large facilities are being built to store collected data we believe to be our private conversations, we can only wonder, to what extent are we being watched, and by whom?