CitizenFour: Film Review

    The latest Laura Poitras film, CitizenFour opened to a considerable press hoopla on 17 October, which pleasantly was entirely deserved. She achieved an accurate portrait of Edward Snowden through close access to him in Hong Kong and Moscow; she produced not only a political portrait, but a curiously human portrait. The film certainly damaged the US case against Snowden, which has consistently portrayed him as a traitorous anarchist.

    Or worse a spy with blood on his hands, risking the lives of countless young American soldiers in their “fight for freedom”. Quite rich coming from Generals who have bombed civilians; tortured political prisoners; and actively armed regimes that regularly behead hundreds of their own citizens (see HRW and Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia). As far as is known, not one person has been injured, let alone killed, as a result of Snowden’s disclosures.

    The documents he brought out paint one of the most disturbing portraits of totalitarian mass spying – surveillance surpassing even that of the East German Stasi.

    The Snowden that emerged from the film was a rounded, intelligent figure with a surprisingly modest political agenda. But the anonymising Tor and encryption tools through which he safely transmitted all the NSA files to Poitras and Greenwald were presented and repeated in a post film message from Laura. This is probably the best case made so far for journalists to embrace this technology.

    The role of the mainstream press and its own agenda was very softly presented.

    This in itself would make another important film on slippery, unprincipled and often dishonest behaviour.

    Her next film will probably be the edited result of hundreds of hours of close recording of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The man of course who opened the door for Snowden and whose investigator, Sarah Harrison, actually rescued Snowden from Hong Kong.

    Laura Poitras has decided to base herself in the relative safety of Berlin where Sarah Harrison has been told by her lawyers to remain, lest she risk arrest or detention in returning to Britain.

    Gavin MacFadyen