Do you ever have the feeling that big brother is watching you? Laura Poitras’ breathtaking 2014 documentary CitizenFour fearlessly delves into how much big brother is watching – and how little it wants the American public to know about it.
The film starts with Poitras being contacted through encrypted email by a mysterious source with compromising information that United States government wants to keep hidden. Poitras –along with Journalist Glenn Greenwald –meet with the source in Hong Kong who later reveals himself to be Edward Snowden. The core of the film subsists of the interviews and actions that follow over the next few days in Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room while the media around the world reacts the leak of once-confidential information. Poitras positions Snowden to be a brave hero – a David – standing up to the goliath of the United States government. She highlights small moments of Snowden, which to anyone could appear paranoid, thinking that the government could be listening in through the phone. However, when he reveals how in depth the NSA spying has become, it made me rethink how I protect my privacy on the web and in daily life. Greenwald echoes my sentiment but soon realizes the gravity of what Snowden knows and works perfectly as a mirror for the unknowing viewer to grasp the unsettling information that is being revealed.
When Snowden reveals his identity the American news media and government rebrand his whistleblower appearance as that of a terrorist. Throughout the interviews Poitras intersperse interviews and observations from leading privacy experts and whistleblowers commending Snowden and condemning the United States government for their invasive techniques. As Greenwald and Poitras try to continue to push the information to the public. The reach and strength of big government continues to push back on the journalists as pressure becomes so strong that the UK government forces the Guardian to destroy the hard drive given to them under the guise of national security. As well as detaining Greenwald’s partner for no discernible reason other than fear.
This turn of events cause Snowden to plead asylum in Russia. Which is where the film ends with him reuniting with Poitras and Greenwald to discuss another source that has come forward with even more damming information. Though this time Greenwald knows that someone could be watching, writing down information and than ripping it to pieces. Poitras lets the camera linger on this moment to show, not only how much they have been affected by the presence of big brother but what else the government might be doing without the public’s knowledge.
The film strongly supports Snowden’s point of view and viewpoint and Poitras actively inserts her personal issues with the government into the film. Though without that bias she would never have been able to achieve the access that she gained with Snowden. Which gives the viewer an in-depth view into Snowden and what the NSA has been doing to the American public, in a far more personal way that any other news story on the subject. As it is an election year, I would definitely recommend anyone on both sides of the political spectrum to watch the film and see how you view your privacy.
CitizenFour is available to stream now on HBOgo