Citizenfour (2014, Laura Poitras)

Like many of you, I paid attention to the Snowden leaks when they came out – as much attention as I could – and have followed The Intercept and others about the surveillance state since that time. But, on the other hand, my process of making my own life less accessible to the surveillance state has been a case of one step forward, one step back: every time I do something to make my life more private, I stop doing it after a few days or weeks. (Though I do pay for most things in cash and don’t own a smart phone so, in that sense, I’m far less tracked than many of you.)

This film, though, makes everything far more immediate and visceral. There is something about watching Snowden holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong – and something about experiencing the sense of unease of everyone in the film – that makes this so much more real than just reading about it online. This documentary creates a palpable sense of dread that few if any articles about surveillance could. And that sense of dread is, for me, why it’s a great and important film.

It’s films like this that wake up viewers to situations in their lives that they should and can react to and resist against. Films like this one are important because they can reach us at levels that mere journalism cannot.

I do not think this film is perfect by any means – though it is lacking anything that really eats at me in terms of construction – but it is one of the most important documentaries of its era simply because of who and what it covers, and how it does so.


  • Directed by Laura Poitras
  • Produced by Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, Dirk Wilutzky
  • Starring:
    • Edward Snowden
    • Glenn Greenwald
    • William Binney
    • Jacob Appelbaum
    • Ewen MacAskill
    • Laura Poitras
    • Julian Assange
    • Ladar Levison
    • Jeremy Scahill
  • Cinematography: Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Katy Scoggin
  • Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy
  • Production companies: HBO Films, Participant Media, Praxis Films
  • Distributed by Radius-TWC
  • Release date: October 10, 2014
  • Running time: 113 minutes
  • Country: United States, Germany
  • Language: English, German, Portuguese
  • Budget: $1 million
  • Box office: $3 million

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