Doc Thoughts: Citizenfour

CitizenfourDocumentary filmmaker Laura Poitras completes her trilogy about post-9/11 America with this film about the man who blew the whistle on wiretapping and information collection done by the NSA.  In January 2013, Laura Poitras receives a series of encrypted e-mail from a man calling himself “citizen four.”  The contact is ready and willing to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the National Security Administration.  Poitras travels with journalist Glenn Greenwald to meet with the contact, who turns out to be a man named Edward Snowden.  As the information given by Snowden is reported by the media, it sets off a series of events that will affect all the parties involved. Ever since George Orwell’s “1984,” there probably hasn’t been a greater fear than the thought that somebody might be observing everything that you do.  The fear of “Big Brother” is precisely the goal of Citizenfour, which structures itself as a real life cyber thriller.  The information revealed by Edward Snowden sends waves throughout the United States and makes Snowden a wanted man, who has to go into political asylum.  Even though she remains off camera, director Laura Poitras is very much a central character in the film, as she reads the many e-mail communications she receives from Snowden.  The other central figure in this story is journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is the man that reveals the information given by Snowden to the public. It can be a bit difficult to separate the story of Citizenfour from how it’s presented as a film.  Without a doubt, this is a very interesting story.  It is scary to think that a government agency has the power to observe everything that you do.  The film demonstrates that it can be very easy to track someone and it really makes the world sound like a very scary place.  However, it seems that Laura Poitras is trying way to hard to present this film has a paranoid thriller, instead of an objective look at this issue.  Featuring some very ominous music, taken from the Nine Inch Nails album “Ghosts I-IV”, Citizenfour really plays into the fear of both technology and the government. It probably doesn’t help that Laura Poitras comes off as a bit paranoid herself.  Intertitles at the start of the film talks about Poitras being under surveillance after, the previous two documentaries of this trilogy, My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010).  The film really makes you want to think that the U.S. government comes after all the parties involved, after Edward Snowden makes his revelations.  In fact, the paranoia gets so high that the film’s final meeting with Snowden involves many facts being written down, instead of being spoken verbally. Overall, if you are a technophobe and scared about the government spying on its citizens, Citizenfour is a film that will play right into those fears.  However, the film is so concerned with the paranoia around the NSA wiretapping scandal, that is does not stop to present these interactions with Edward Snowden in an objective or even interesting manner.6 | WATCHABLE