2014-10-24 Citizenfour Documentary

Whatever You Think of Edward Snowden, Go See Citizenfour Now

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Adam Clark Estes
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EDWARD SNOWDEN
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Whatever You Think of Edward Snowden, Go See Citizenfour Now

I have mixed feelings about Snowden. After spending more than a year reporting on the whistleblower patriot traitor spy skinny guy from North Carolina, I’ve gone from lauding his regard for American civil liberties to deeply distrusting his intentions and methods for exposing state secrets. But last night, I saw Citizenfour, a new documentary about the leaks, by Laura Poitras. It turned the face of a scandal into Ed, a real human being.

Citizenfour follows the Edward Snowden saga from the very first emails the former NSA contractor sent to Poitras in January 2013, through the eight days they spent in a Hong Kong hotel room discussing the leaks, and eventually to his exile in Russia. The film’s title refers to the codename that Snowden used when he first emailed Poitras to tell her about the documents. He chose her.

Poitras, in turn, follows Snowden. She stays behind the camera, keeping it rolling not only to capture the first time journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill actually see the NSA documents but also to document Snowden’s despair. She dwells upon the quiet moments—when he’s waiting to hear his girlfriend of ten years respond to the news that he’s gone and probably never coming back, when he’s waiting for the story that names him as the leaker to hit the web, when he’s waiting for the human rights lawyers to sneak him out of the hotel so that he can hide in a UN building. When he’s waiting. And he’s always waiting.

These are moments I imagined a million times while blogging about each and every revelation the Snowden documents produced. Moment’s I thought I’d never see. In the beginning, we barely knew what the guy looked like. There was the first glimpse of him in the unmasking video produced by The Guardian: “My name’s Ed Snowden. I’m, uh, 29-years-old.” Poitros actually shows the video being filmed in her documentary, and the moment the now familiar image of Snowden and his stubble appears on screen, it’s breathtaking That’s the image of Snowden we’d seen in so many newspaper articles and blog posts, including Gizmodo’s own.

That’s not the Snowden you see in the rest of the movie, though. The Snowden you see is not just a guy sitting in a chair getting interviewed some famous journalist. He’s a frightened guy about to turn 30 and, he assumes, about to spend the rest of his life in prison. This guy is the human we haven’t seen before. At times, he’s likable. At times, he’s pitiful. And pretty much the entire time, he’s scared shitless. You can tell.

Whatever You Think of Edward Snowden, Go See Citizenfour Now

This intimate glimpse into Snowden’s humanity does not absolve him of his sins, whatever they may be. There is a case to be made that Citizenfour glosses over the more unsavory parts of the Snowden story. Why didn’t we learn more about how he originally obtained—some would say “stole”—this massive cache of top secret documents? What about how he tricked oblivious coworkers into giving him access to classified information? Where exactly was Snowden for the 11 days before he checked into the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong? Why did he quietly hand over a cache of documents full of “operational details of specific attacks on computers” to a Chinese newspaper?

I don’t know why Poitras left these things out of her film. With any luck, I’ll get to ask her. But Citizenfour is hardly a crucifixion, despite the fact that Snowden himself suggests that “nailing me to the cross instead of protecting me as a source” would be the best way for Poitras, Greenwald, and MacAskill to ensure that others weren’t accused of foul play. There will be plenty of time for history to figure out exactly what Snowden did and when. Plenty of people will continue to speculate about why he did it.

Citizenfour gracefully avoids these judgements. Following in the tradition of cinéma vérité, Poitros portrays what happened in room 1014 of the Mira Hotel from June 3 to June 10 of last year with as much regard to the reality of the situation as possible. Here’s history happening, and it’s a little messy. Everyone’s a little shaky—especially Ed.

The paranoia is palpable in one scene, as Snowden unplugs the hotel room phone, suspecting that it might be bugged. It’s excruciating in another scene, as Snowden ducks beneath a cloak to type on a laptop. “This isn’t science fiction,” he told a laughing Glenn Greenwald. “It’s really happening.”

Whatever You Think of Edward Snowden, Go See Citizenfour Now

It’s still happening. But watching the transformation of a skinny guy from North Carolina into Edward Snowden, the most wanted man on the planet, is simply uncanny. There he is in that hotel room, just hours after his face was splashed across practically every TV, newspaper, and computer screen on Earth. Gone is the ill-fitting white T-shirt he’d been wearing while sitting nervously on the bed and explaining some of America’s most secret secrets to a trio of journalist. That was old Ed.

New Ed is wearing a black blazer over a black shirt. He’s smearing gel into his stubborn hair and trying to get the part just right. He has his dark sunglasses ready, and he experiments with using an umbrella to hide his face. Just a few feet away, CNN is reporting on the NSA whistleblower’s identity and that famous image of old Ed is on the screen looking very nervous and slightly gaunt.

New Ed looks like a spy. And new Ed will be a fugitive for the rest of his life.

Whatever You Think of Edward Snowden, Go See Citizenfour Now

Citizenfour opens in theaters across the country on October 24 (today). Go see it.

All images via Citizenfour / RADiUS / TWC

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Touchdown-Travis
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Touchdown TravisAdam Clark Estes
Yesterday 12:58pm
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HERO.
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SheldonPlankton
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SheldonPlanktonTouchdown Travis
Yesterday 1:06pm
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TRAITOR because LAW and AGREEMENTS.
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goodbutcertainlynotsensational
good, but certainly not sensational
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good, but certainly not sensationalSheldonPlankton
Yesterday 1:15pm
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… both?
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justagigilo85
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justagigilo85Adam Clark Estes
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Just be sure to shut off your phone and pay cash when buying your tickets.
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allthingsconsidered
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Honestly, I still believe (my right – to have my own beliefs) he’s a traitor to this country. He can claim he was doing it for the greater good, like Bush did when he realized that Iraq was going south: “Hey, it’s always been a humanitarian mission!”

Snowden, for as scared as he might have been, exposed the U.S. intelligence community to the world. He exposed things we knew that would eventually lead to us coming ever so close to having Germany (and possibly the rest of the world) turn against us. He is the singular reason we are mistrusted the world over – more so than ever in the past.

See, he didn’t expose Russia’s methods, or the U.K.’s, or China’s, or… So, for him to say he was doing it to help the American people is bullshit. He says it’s not about money or notoriety, but about “doing what’s right.” If we had a dollar in the U.S. coffers for every time some asshole claimed they were doing it “for the good of the country,” our deficit would be paid off.

Radical Islamists say they do it for their religion & country – does that make suicide bombing patriotic? Does that make beheading okay? Of course not. And yes, I do compare these to what Snowden did. I hope they put the dick in jail for life. He should lose it for being a traitor to the country – but that will never happen. There are too many sympathizers who think that what Snowden did was because of his love of country. There are too many individuals who buy up his sob story and retell it like a game of telephone (i.e. no one understands all of it, but they all think they are experts)

Who cares if Snowden is scared, or worried about whether his girlfriend is going to abandon him. Who gives a shit if he’s gonna turn 30 and running for his “life.” I sure as hell don’t. As far as I’m concerned, Snowden has set the U.S. intelligence gathering back about 30-50 years… That is being an asshat.
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misterwoodhouse
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WoodhouseAdam Clark Estes
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No thanks.
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saintandrewsfall
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saintandrewsfallAdam Clark Estes
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Wired just did a great interview with him in last months(?) issue where they revealed for the first time some of the other stuff the U.S. government was trying to get away with. I’m not an expert on his methods of releasing the info, but the guy’s intentions were not traitorous….he was a whistle blower. In other words (and overly-simplified), the difference between leaking government passwords and revealing illegal government actions.
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ottermann
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ottermannAdam Clark Estes
Yesterday 3:04pm
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I’m concerned about the details left out of the movie.

I’m sorry, but if a movie doesn’t tell the whole story and leaves bits out, it’s not a documentary; It’s propaganda. She is trying to paint him as human by leaving out the unsavory bits to garner sympathy for him.

I for one will not fall for it.

He says he’s a whistle blower. Ok, fine. release the documents to journalists. But he handed documents detailing specific computer attacks directly to Chinese newspapers. let’s not kid ourselves; He might as well have handed them to the Ministry of Public Security, and he knew it when he was doing it.

If he was a whistle blower, he would be protected under American law. But he knows that he doesn’t qualify because of how he obtained the data, and who he released it to.

By American law, and by the laws of most nations, he is guilty of theft, at the very least, and espionage at the worst.

He can rot in exile for all I care. I have no sympathy for him.
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ace
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I interviewed the director this afternoon and asked her about this. Check back next week for an update!
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Freshe_bakked
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Freshe_bakkedAdam Clark Estes
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This entire article is nothing more than a very thinly veiled AD for the movie.

What’s wrong? Slow Tech-news day?

The movie itself is nothing more than a sympathy generator for someone who deserves absolutely ZERO sympathy and ZERO empathy.

Here’s hoping that a “black bag op” happens and he ends-up in US Custody to stand trial for Treason.
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ace
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Adam Clark EstesFreshe_bakked
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Did you actually see the movie?
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