Wednesday, December 31, 2014


DE/US © 2014 Praxis Films. P: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, Dirk Wilutzky. D: Laura Poitras. DP: Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras, Katy Soggin – DI: ARRI Film & TV Services. VFX: Killian Manning. Titles: Neil Reynolds. M: portions of the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I–IV. S: Frank Kruse. ED: Mathilde Bonnefoy.
    A documentary film.
    Featuring: Edward Snowden. And: Jacob Appelbaum, Julian Assange, Kevin Bankston, William Binney, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Lindsay Mills, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill.
    And: Barack Obama (archival footage).
    Loc: Room 1014, Mira Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
    114 min
    2K DCP with German (Fran Sahlberg) and English subtitles viewed at Kant Kino 3, Berlin, on New Year's Eve, 31 Dec 2014
    The title: Citizenfour was the alias of Edward Snowden.

    "Dedicated to those who make great sacrifices to expose injustice."

Official synopsis: "Citizenfour is a real life thriller, unfolding by the minute, giving audiences unprecedented access to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s encounters with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, as he hands over classified documents providing evidence of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA)."

"Poitras had already been working on a film about surveillance for two years when Snowden contacted her, using the name “Citizenfour,” in January 2013.  He reached out to her because he knew she had long been a target of government surveillance, stopped at airports numerous times, and had refused to be intimidated. When Snowden revealed he was a high-level analyst driven to expose the massive surveillance of Americans by the NSA, Poitras persuaded him to let her film."

"Citizenfour places you in the room with Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden as they attempt to manage the media storm raging outside, forced to make quick decisions that will impact their lives and all of those around them."

"Citizenfour not only shows you the dangers of governmental surveillance—it makes you feel them. After seeing the film, you will never think the same way about your phone, email, credit card, web browser, or profile, ever again." (Official synopsis)

The final film in the documentary trilogy of the United States post 9/11 by Laura Poitras: My Country, My Country (2006, on Iraq under U.S. occupation), The Oath (2010 on two men whose paths cross with al-Qaeda), and Citizenfour (2014).

AA: Citizenfour belongs to the heavyweights among current documentaries, those which challenge us to reflect upon the state of the world with utter gravity – like The Salt of the Earth (2014) by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

At the center of Citizenfour is the Edward Snowden whistleblowing story recorded in real time as it happened at Mira Hotel in Hongkong. We register the nuclear news bomb explode all over the globe.

The taut and sober documentary by Laura Poitras also expands to relevant contexts with startling testimonies by William Binney and Jacob Applebaum.

It is all about the subject-matter, but the personal presence of Edward Snowden is essential for us to be aware that here is someone who has sacrificed everything and has benefitted nothing from his revelation.

A parallel story is that of Laura Poitras herself who has been forced to settle from the U.S. to Berlin to secure her footage from being seized.

The gravity is in the fundamental concern for the ideals of freedom, the right to privacy, free speech, and democracy. The reality of surveillance and the police state today makes Orwell's 1984 and Stasi look amateurish.

"Privacy is dead" is the motto here. I remember when I first went to the Internet in the mid-1990s that ECHELON was supposed to register everything. "In cyberspace everybody can hear you scream" became my motto. Yet all this was an educated guess until Snowden proved it.

What can we do? On the Citizenfour homepage ( there is a surveillance self-defense kit for starters. In the movie is included a sequence of the FBI's attempt to crush Lavabit, so it is an ongoing battle.

Citizenfour is a key film for our age. Films of espionage, surveillance and paranoia have a distinguished tradition, Fritz Lang and Alan J. Pakula belong to its masters, and in Finland Matti Salo has written a great book on that legacy (Viitta ja tikari / Cloak and Dagger, soon forthcoming). Reality has now surpassed fiction as documented in Citizenfour.

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