16 October 2014

Author Hannah Lea

Citizenfour

In 2013, reporter, filmmaker and artist, Laura Poitras began receiving anonymous encrypted emails from a source claiming to have evidence of illegal covert surveillance programs run by the NSA along with other intelligence agencies across the world. 

After months of secretive communication, Poitras, along with reporters Glen Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill travelled to Hong Kong to meet the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. 

Citizenfour, so called after the alias Snowden referred to himself by in early emails to director Poitras, is the story of how Snowden’s revelations unfolded through the eye of Poitras’ camera. At the heart of the film is a hotel room in Hong Kong. One in which NSA whistle-blower, Snowden and Poitras herself started the leak that would grow into a global debate about security intelligence in the digital age.

New York film festival director Kent Jones said ‘Seeing Citizenfour for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget. The film operates on a number of levels at the same time: a character-study [of Edward Snowden] … a real-life suspense story and chilling exposé.’ 

What’s striking about Poitras’ documentary is its style, tightly packed with questions and an ominous throbbing soundtrack to rival any fictional political thriller. The film’s challenging and compelling subject ultimately addresses the notion that every aspect of your online communication is in the hands of a system with an unlimited reach but whose safeguards are surprisingly weak. An issue that is growing in society, almost as fast as the technology itself.

Away from the tense discussions of intelligence programs and security practices are moments between Snowden, Greenwald, MacAskill (and Poitras behind the camera) showing an honest emerging bond during their time in Hong Kong. The group become more comfortable with each other, they begin to make jokes and we watch as the hotel room gradually becomes messier and more stories are revealed as the week progresses.

Citizenfour completes Poitras’ trilogy of films examining post 9/11 America, following My Country, My Country and The Oath, which won the ‘excellence in cinematography award’ at Sundance in 2010. This series of tense encounters is mesmerizingly documented by Poitras resulting in a unique moment in cinema history. Watch as one of the world’s biggest real-life thrillers unfolds minute by minute before our eyes.

Citizenfour will be screened at FACT on Friday 17 October with a live satellite Q&A from the 2014 London Film Festival. Tickets are available from the Box Office, by phone on 0151 902 5737 and online