“Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second.”
I’m not a big consumer of news. I never watch it on telly, I don’t read the paper and I rarely read it online. I know that as an adult, I should have more of an interest, or even just a curiosity with this stuff, but I just don’t. I don’t see any reason to force it on myself. But sometimes, stories burst through the pop culture landscape and they’re impossible to ignore.
The only problem is, those kinds of stories usually burst through via sensationalised sound bites and tabloid style headlines. So yeah, I knew who Edward Snowden was, and I knew the broad strokes of what he had done, but I never knew the details. And while I might be averse to news coverage, I do love a good documentary. Which is why I was a lot more interested in the Snowden story once I heard that Citizenfour existed.
After making a pair of not so flattering documentaries about the US government and military in the wake of 9/11, film maker Laura Poitras found herself on several covert watch lists. She also found herself on the mailing list of one disgruntled whistleblower. After a series of encrypted emails with spy movie type instructions on how to meet, Poitras finally met the man codenamed Citizenfoutr in person. That man was Edward Snowden.
Over a week or so, Poitras, along with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill met daily with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room where he shared his story. Technically employed by a defense contractor, Snowden had actually been working for the American National Security Agency. Disgusted by the level of what he saw us illegal spying the NSA was routinely perpetrating against American citizens, Snowden picked Poitras and Greenwald to expose the truth.
I’m sure any right winger or conservative would label Citizenfour as a puff piece and totally biased in its depiction of Snowden, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, it focuses totally on letting Snowden tell his side of the story, but that tight focus also gives him plenty of opportunities to reveal himself as hypocritical in his intentions, or wrong in his actions, or just a complete dick. And I know it could have been edited to exclude that stuff, but I just don’t see it.
Maybe I’m an easy mark or a gullible rube, but before I watched this movie, I knew very little about Snowden, while being philosophically onboard with the idea of exposing a government that had gone beyond its rightful limits. Now, after watching Citizenfour, I’m 100% on Snhowden’s side. And even if the movie has blurred the truth and manipulated me into forming that opinion, that’s OK too.
I don’t think documentaries have an obligation to be unbiased. They’re still a movie and the same obligations of movies still apply. Tell me a compelling story and make me give a shit about the characters. Citizenfour does that. Its Academy Awards win also goes some of the way to making up for last year’s monumental cock up when 20 Feet Form Stardom somehow beat The Act of Killing.