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With: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, Jacob Appelbaum, Julian Assange, Kevin Bankston, William Binney, Ewen MacAskill, Lindsay Mills
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Laura Poitras
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 114
Date: 10/24/2014

Citizenfour (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Private Eyes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes a documentary goes beyond all critical appraisal and simply needs to be seen by every American. Although I understand that a theatrical release gives it more credibility, frankly it ought to be shown free, online. Perhaps in a few months, it will.

Directed by Laura Poitras, Citizenfour tells the story of Edward Snowden, a systems administrator who worked for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and as a contractor inside the NSA. When he discovered that the Patriot Act was being used not to find terrorists but to spy on average, everyday Americans, monitoring everything that went over their internet signal, he decided that he could not hold his tongue. He leaked documents proving these activities. His next step was to contact Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald and tell his story on camera, before his name went public. On camera, he's frightened, sad, but unwavering in the knowledge that he is doing the right thing. The movie gets as much information from him as it can, and then continues filming as Snowden prepares to escape and go into hiding from the forces that are surely coming to get him in retaliation.

It's suspenseful, gripping, shocking, and horrifying. First, there is the knowledge that, for no reason at all, your email, phone conversations, and web browsing could all be on record. Mine could be too. Second, there is the knowledge that, for telling the truth, Snowden will be persecuted for perhaps the rest of his life.

If I may go out on a limb, I saw Citizenfour the same week that I saw Ava DuVernay's Selma and I spotted a small connection between Dr. Martin Luther King and Snowden. Although Dr. King was quite a bit more active in his activism, both risked their personal safety for a cause that was deemed very unpopular and quite dangerous. Both spoke out against a problem that many were either complacent toward, or ignorant of. But both did it because it was the right thing to do. In his day, King was viewed by those in power as a villain and a miscreant and a troublemaker; it's only decades later that he has his high standing. Just remember that as you watch Snowden now.

Citizenfour won the Best Documentary award from my group, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I hope these awards spur people to see the film. If you're not the kind that sees award-winners, then forget what I said and see it anyway.

In August of 2015, Anchor Bay released a deluxe Blu-ray edition of the film. The many bonuses include about 14 minutes of deleted scenes; an hour-long New York Times talk with David Carr, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden (via a live video feed); a 29-minute Q&A at the Lincoln Center with Poitras and film critic Dennis Lim; and an earlier documentary short by Poitras. And, yes, you still need to see this.

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