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Citizenfour - Film Review

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by rujihw (subscribe)
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans - John Lennon
Published January 31st 2015
An award-winning documentary film featuring Edward Snowden

Think about this, if you come into possession of classified information of which the public should know about, what would you do? Would you come forward and expose the truth when you know the risks involved? Or would you choose to turn a blind eye for the sake of your own safety as well as your loved ones?

Citizenfour is an oscar-nominated documentary film by award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, featuring NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden became an overnight sensation in June 2013 when he stepped forward and identified himself as the person who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA). To provide some context, Snowden was hired by consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton to work for NSA as an infrastructure analyst (otherwise known as an 'elite hacker'). This was where he obtained classified documents on top secret surveillance programs.

Citizenfour is the final instalment of Poitras' post-9/11 trilogy, with My Country, My Country and The Oath being the first two films. Poitras adopted a cinéma vérité filming style, which means documenting moments as they are unfolding. The scenes were not staged or rehearsed, and you never know what's going to happen next.

Poitras narrated throughout the film, with the story beginning with encrypted email exchanges between Poitras and an anonymous source in January 2013. After several email correspondence over the span of a few months, the anonymous source indicated his intention to reveal his identity and they agreed to meet. Along with Glenn Greenwald (journalist for The Guardian), Poitras then travelled to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden in Mira Hotel. The events that followed in the next 8 days stirred up a media storm and changed the history forever, with Greenwald publishing the first story on NSA collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers.

While most of the scenes were filmed in real time in Snowden's hotel room, the film captured some important chronological events such as the senate hearing, congressional testimony and press conference. These events formed the basis of controversial themes discussed in this film, such as privacy, transparency, free speech and surveillance. A memorable scene for me was a speech given at a hacker conference, when the speaker introduced the concept of "metadata". Are you aware that everyday, information is collected about you through your phone, email, credit card, and web browser? These data track what you are doing at a particular time and location, and to replicate your daily movements is easier than you think. The film also exposed various confidential surveillance programs, such as "Tempora" - described as the most invasive surveillance system in the world.

I admire the courage of everyone partaking in the production of this film, particularly of Poitras' and Snowden's. Despite having been detained at the U.S. border multiple times due to the previous two films, Poitras never stopped disseminating information for the public good. As for Snowden, no words can adequately describe my respect for him, who puts his career and future, as well as his own safety and his loved ones, on the line. Thanks to the sacrifices they made, there is a growing awareness amongst the public of these pressing issues.

My verdict: Citizenfour is a film that gives you a lot to think about. In particular, it made me think about the contribution I can make to make this world a better place. I am not here to advocate anything, but I believe in doing the right thing and that the magnitude of contribution is secondary to the attitude towards contribution. As Poitras said in an interview, "I'm not the first person who's going to come forward and reveal information that the public should know, and I won't be the last."

I will end this article with a startling fact that was revealed at the end of the film - there are 1.2 million people on U.S. watchlists at any one point. That's the chilling effect of watching Citizenfour - it makes you feel the dangers of governmental surveillance.

Release date: 12th February 2015
Run time: 114 minutes
Rated: M

All images appear courtesy of Madman Entertainment.
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Why? An award-winning documentary film exposing governmental surveillance that changed history forever
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