It’s hard to talk about this docu without talking about your own personal stance on what it’s all about. So let me get this straight from the get go. Edward Snowden is a modern time hero. Just because some politicians and age old laws say otherwise… – my heart and (most importantly) my brain tell me that it’s true, this man is a hero. I felt this way before I saw this doc and now feel that way even more. I still find it hard to believe that this documentary got an Oscar. I watched live when they received it and damn… the mood in that room, full of Hollywood’s greatest, suddenly dropped dead. Some faces said “yes, well done!”. But a lot more looked confused and dead serious tried not to show any kind of emotion whatsoever. As if they were afraid of something. To me it was a slightly shocking sight to be honest. That’s my main memory of the 2015 Oscar ceremony.
I admit, I haven’t seen the other nominated docus. But now after seeing Citizenfour, there was only one of them that, at this moment in history, deserved that Oscar. I’m amazed how well the makers planned this. We see a lot of material right from the start and Glenn Greenwald’s first meetings with Edward Snowden. Laura Poitras, who directed this film, was there to capture the material on film. All of the people involved really made an extremely intelligent impression and very carefully thought about how to proceed with the reveals, that Snowdens material included. At first Snowden is trying to explain what’s actually going on in the world. At that point it’s fascinating trying to read the faces of the journalists. It’s one thing to suspect that all Snowden eventually reveals is going on. But hearing a credible source talking about how deep it actually goes… that’s world-view changing material.
That first part of Citizenfour is also the most interesting one. At least for me. It shows stuff we haven’t seen before. We know what happened when the media released the articles, revealing all the different spying operations, that are going on all around the (for the most part) western world. How countries and companies are linked to intelligence agencies. The first half focussed on Edward Snowden. He didn’t come forward without a plan. A very careful plan. He knew what would happen. He knew what to do, how to protect relatives and friends and how to hide. And the most important part for me is that he did not plan to stay undercover. His plan was to show himself. To attract all attention to him and away from people who had nothing to do with it. His family or girlfriend for example. There are a couple of quiet scenes where there is a glimmer of doubt in his eyes. If this really was the right way to go. If it’s all worth it. If you ask me, I couldn’t answer that question. What’s sure though is the fact that if he wouldn’t have come forward… someone else would have.
The second part of the movie goes into the details of the aftermath of the reveals. That’s the stuff we already know. At least when you’re a little bit interested in world politics. It’s slightly less interesting but it gives a good perspective from the people who were actually involved. What it doesn’t show is that over the time 2013 to 2015 nothing has changed. Here in germany it seems like no one wants to investigate anything NSA related. The chancelor’s cellphone got tapped, they found a double-agent working for the BND/NSA and drone strikes executed from german soil. Nothing happened after Snowden released the documents. That is what’s worrying me the most. And Snowden says it himself… the fact that everyone nowadays takes it for granted that ‘someone is always listening’. That’s how the world works, right? I guess so. That doesn’t make it right though. He also briefly talks about the early days of the Internet. How there was a different atmosphere. How it felt like a door to the whole wide world. It was new. There were no bounds. I’m old enough to remember that time and while it may be nostalgia… he’s absolutely right. I’m sorta proud to have experienced that short time-frame, when the Internet was still relatively young in the mid to late 90s.
So yeah. Everyone should see this documentary. It’s not just about the person Edward Snowden. It’s about our time and how the world works. It’s a lesson that needs to be taught. I fear we’re all still students, trying to understand and comprehend how big that machine, that constantly works in the background of our lives, really is.