One does not often see documentary trailers that take risks. Many of them are content to show some “greatest hits” of the non-fiction stories and talking head subjects in the final product to give audiences a taste of what the film is about. However, Citizenfour is marketed like a cyber-thriller, and its trailer is as patient as it is probing and unpredictable.
The trailer brings us into a state of alienation, as we go down a dark tunnel with lights overhead, propelling forward into an abyss. Director Laura Poitras does the voiceover, reading a message from a man who “can offer nothing more than [his] word” about the intelligence he wants to bring to light. We are instantly engaged, wondering about the identity of this government official and what these confidential secrets may be. A prickly musical score only adds to the tension, as do still, surveillance-like views of city streets and cell phone towers, hinting at our lack of privacy.
When we finally find out the man’s identity, Edward Snowden, it is like the reveal of the hero or villain at the end of a teaser trailer. Considering how Snowden is viewed as both, depending on who you speak to, the thriller’s build-up is even more fitting. With a dizzying trailer and the appearance of one of the most controversial figures in recent American history, it is no wonder that Citizenfour became one of the year’s must-see documentaries.