Film Fest review: Citizenfour

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The 2015 Kamloops Film Festival runs March 5 to 14. Check back each week for more reviews.

Citizenfour is a factual documentary that has all the tension and suspense of a fictional spy thriller. The documentary tells the story of how NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents to the media that proved that the NSA and its partners in other countries intercepted and stored a vast amount of private electronic communication between citizens without their consent.

Keen followers of the Snowden leak may be disappointed that the documentary does not reveal much in the way of new leaked documents, but instead tells a very human story. As Snowden reveals the scale of the government agency’s breach of trust, the audience is painted a vivid picture of a brave group of people facing off against an almost omnipotent force.

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In an early scene, Snowden recommends that one of the journalists encrypt their emails with a password “strong enough to resist an adversary capable of a trillion guesses per minute.” A later scene, in which Snowden suggests that the fire alarm, which has suddenly interrupted his conver-sation with the journalists, may be the CIA trying to flush them from the building. The scene carries as much claustrophobic tension as the depth charge attack in Das Boot. In the face of an enemy that completely dominates modern electronic communication, Snowden’s meeting with the documentary crew is forced to rely on methods that would have been familiar to Cold War spies or the journalists that broke Watergate. The result is a face to face conversation in front of the camera that chronicles both the process of deciding how much of the secret documents to publish, and also how much of a public role Snowden should play.

Snowden is portrayed as a willing martyr but a reluctant hero. He seems resigned to the long odds that he is working against and is happy to go to jail for his actions but is unsure about becoming the face of the leak in the media. Snowden maintains throughout the documentary that the leak is not about him, but Citizenfour certainly is. The documentary is a humanizing account of the man that the United States government tried to portray as a hardened spy and traitor. Snowden is seen eating room service and fretfully typing out emails to his girlfriend, with whom he did not share his plans. If there is one thing that Citizenfour offers that previous records of the Snowden leak did not, it is a look into Snowden’s intentions framed in his own words. It is clear that Snowden took great pains to self-censor what he released so that it would not harm U.S. citizens, only inform them of their government’s conduct.

Citzenfour was an excellent documentary that is deserving of every award that it has received. It is a tremendously important film that succeeded in fully realizing and documenting a small part of what will be remembered as one of the most important historical events of our time.

Showing at the Kamloops Film Fest the week of March 11:

Mountain Men – Two Days, One Night – Big News from Grand Rock – What We Do in the Shadows – Winter Sleep – When the Ocean Met the Sky