By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2014--CITIZENFOUR  Send This Review to a Friend

The 2014 New York Film Festival scored a major coup in showing “Citizenfour,” an intimate look at Edward Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. The documentary is directed by Laura Poitras, who filmed Glenn Greenwald, the journalist, together with Snowden to explore his reasons for divulging the U.S. government’s secret program for spying on the phone and email records of American citizens in the war against terrorists.

The film enables us to get to know Snowden quite well as he articulates his views in response to probing questions by Greenwald. Snowden comes across as a decent citizen troubled by what he knows and willing to take his risks for following his conscience and leaking the information that set off a public storm with international ramifications.

One does not get an impression that he is a self-absorbed publicity seeker. His coming forward would appear to be in the tradition of whistleblowers whose conscience dictates the need to step forward no matter the personal risk. He answers questions forthrightly, but of course does not implicate others.

The film also gives us a valuable portrait of Greenwald, who follows his journalistic ethics in working carefully to be sure the information is disseminated. One also appreciates his method of questioning and the way in which he earns Snowden’s trust.

There is a conspiratorial air about the film, confined to the hotel room where Snowden is holed up. We witness the process of his transferring documents via internet communication and the danger is emphasized when we see Snowden packing to leave in a hurry. He was eventually given temporary asylum in Russia, where he has been joined by his lady friend.

The value of the film lies in the public being able to hear the story directly from Snowden and evaluate him based on his explanations, personality and the total impression he makes. It is an opportunity to judge for oneself. A Radius release. Reviewed October 19, 2014.


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