Citizenfour (2014)

Cast includes: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum
Director: Laura Poitras (Flag Wars, The Oath)
Genre: Documentary (114 minutes)

Huffington Post

“At this stage, I can offer nothing more than my word.” Before there can be any exchange of information, the person code-named “Citizenfour” instructs Laura Poitras on securing their connection. “I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk.” She soon realizes that this could be a bigger story than she can deal with on her own, and suggests contacting Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. Before 9/11, William Binney, a 37-year veteran of the NSA, had caused alarm when he warned of data collection systems with unlimited reach… every email, every google search, every website visited, every phone call, every bank transaction, every credit card purchase… and the list goes on. Binney warned that the NSA was actively spying on everyone. But in the aftermath of 9/11, all restrictions were out the window. AT&T, for example, gives up over 320 million records per day… and the amount of data collected increases daily. Citizenfour seems to “know the location of most interception points… and I can prove it.” This is really too much for any one reporter to handle.

10:00AM, Hong Kong… Greenwald and Laura Poitras meet the young man in a public place and then go to a hotel room, where they will conduct 8 days of interviews… all being filmed. The young man is Edward Snowden, and we learn right away that he has no expectation of remaining anonymous. It’s just that he wants the information to be the primary focus for as long as possible. By this time, Greenwald has started reading the documents. He feels that each one is a story of it’s own. He suggests they begin publishing stories right away, and Snowden agrees. Snowden explains about link-ability… one piece of data links to another, and pretty soon there’s a complete metadata profile… which links to millions of other metadata profiles. At any point, a search could be requested, which could easily isolate a specific individual. With virtually no oversight, anyone with access can drill down… not just on metadata, but on content of phone calls and many other communications. So it comes as no surprise that within days, Snowden’s home in Hawaii is under surveillance.

Citizenfour is not a pleasant movie to watch. No matter which side of the debate you come down on, the movie will broaden your understanding of the issues and the motivation of the person at the center. Snowden has been described as a low-level 29-year-old college dropout. He actually fits the profile of a CIA/NSA systems administrator perfectly. Working for security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden actually had the highest-level security clearance you can get. With no questions asked, he could access virtually anything… and he did. But they don’t give you the keys to the kingdom unless they know you know what’s what… and he does. You’d have to watch this film several times before you’d start to grasp all the issues… the security system’s techno-lingo is a language of it’s own. And of course, the issues are even more complex than what’s presented in the film. Citizenfour is Laura Poitras’s third film dealing with post 9/11 issues. As much as we’d like to look the other way… “It’s really chilling and it’s not science fiction.”

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

Eight days of interviews with Edward Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Mood: Sober
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Edward Snowden
Language: True to life

Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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