Student Voice


June 22, 2024


'Citizenfour' documentary resonates well after ending credits

March 11, 2015

Some friends and I drove to St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Feb. 15 to view the documentary premiere of "Citizenfour," the film about the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The filmmakers kept a cap on leaking its own content on the internet; I first tried to buy a digital version. The film’s website read “coming to digital platforms soon” for weeks. To be straight, I wanted to pay--messing with online pirating usually leads to sketchy places, so I avoid it.

After the Oscars, where "Citizenfour" won best feature documentary, I found that HBO was now offering the documentary on-demand through Xfinity. I was pleased because I could watch it for the second time.

"Citizenfour" extends far past a review-type analysis. The premiere happened to be a few days after David Carr, a prominent New York Times journalist from the Twin Cities area, died after interviewing the three main people of the film: Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower; Glenn Greenwald, the reporter; and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker.

As a journalism student, who looks up to professionals like Carr, I studied the interaction between Greenwald and Snowden in the film. Ethical questions were asked, and the First Amendment predicament was being discussed. Seeing, in snippets, Greenwald and Ewan Macaskill physically working with their tools: computers, pens, and paper, was also a bonus. They wrote fast and worked quickly.

From the epilogue of “No Place Left to Hide,” the book preceding the documentary, and detailing the situation, Greenwald writes: “In the very first online conversation I had with Snowden, he told me he had only one fear about coming forward: that his revelations might be greeted with apathy and indifference, which would mean he had unraveled his life and risked imprisonment for nothing.”

At one point during "Citizenfour," Greenwald was being shown documents and interrupts Snowden’s explanations. He then exclaimed how massive the scale of what he was witnessing can go, and how deeply analyzed it can be. This has proven to be very true with stories still being written about the revelations worldwide two years later. It seems like every slice of what Snowden has is a new angle for a new story. During the film, they didn’t mention too many specifics regarding the titles of documents.

The setting, the hotel in Hong Kong, China, was intense. Snowden’s paranoia is very justified if one imagines his situation: he decided to turn on everything. He traveled across the world to come out against one of the most powerful governments on Earth: the U.S.

Snowden explained far past just the U.S.; international systems are mentioned. For example, the United Kingdom spying program is more extensive than the U.S.

Snowden said in the film that the U.S. loved to look at the United Kingdom's program because they could do things the U.S. couldn’t.

Currently, Snowden remains in Russian asylum. CNN reported Snowden’s Russian lawyer on March 4, talking about Snowden’s consideration to return to the U.S. His only condition being a fair trial.

The NSA is not national security. It is domestic security in the name of national security. It’s possible for terrorists to be identified, but it should not be in the way currently deployed; that of collecting everything people do and mapping it through sophisticated analytical methods.

Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.