When Edward Snowden suddenly appeared on the public radar – frantically blowing the whistle on the outrageous over-reachings of the international intelligence community, and specifically the NSA – opinions were divided. While many were enraged by the revelations, some branded the man behind them a traitor, and the US government issued criminal charges. Safely ensconced overseas, Snowden continues to disseminate ‘sensitive’ information, and has received a number of awards for his trouble. His ongoing story is a fascinating one, to be sure, and Hollywood has already begun to mine it for projects. But, it is those first shocking days that are the subject of a new documentary film, Citizenfour – and the teaser trailer that has been released suggests it makes for hard-hitting and compelling viewing.
Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras (Flag Wars, My Country My Country) – a MacArthur Fellow and founding member of the Freedom Of The Press Foundation – Citizenfour is ccharacterizedas “an unprecedented fly-on-the-wall account of one of the most groundbreaking moments in recent history.” That moment comprises the first meetings between Poitras, Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald – the first people Snowden reached out to with the information he was seeking to release, regarding secret NSA programs.
The teaser trailer is brief, but intensely gripping. Benign and harmless shots of various locations – a tunnel, a city-scape, some satellite dishes – are overlaid with a quiet, female voice reading a communication to Laura Poitras from ‘Citizen Four.’ The content of the message jars with the pleasantness of the voice, however, because it is sinister and worrisome. It hints of terrible things to come – that this initial tip-off regarding the existence of a massive surveillance operation, is merely the tiny cap of an overwhelmingly large iceberg that has been meticulously hidden from public view. Then, very quickly, ‘Citizen Four’ is revealed as the face that is now internationally recognizable– Edward Snowden.
At the time, however, he was anonymous, and what we have here – in this trailer – is the real footage of the infamous informant introducing himself to his contacts for the first time. It is both powerful, and very moving.
Here’s the official plot synopsis from the 2014 New York Film Festival:
“In January 2013, filmmaker Laura Poitras was in the process of constructing a film about abuses of national security in post-9/11 America, when she began receiving encrypted emails from someone identifying themselves as ‘Citizen Four’, who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In June 2013, she and reporter Glenn Greenwald 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 film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is absolutely sui generis in the history of cinema: a 100% real life thriller unfolding minute-by-minute before our eyes.”
Citizenfour, executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 10th 2014 and is also set to screen at the London Film Festival on October 17th, 2014. It will then arrive in US theatres on October 24th, 2014.