Edward Snowden
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Film review: Citizenfour - Edward Snowden in Hong Kong

Laura Poitras' documentary of American national-security whistle-blower's eight paranoid days holed up in the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui feeds into his image as a tragic hero

Laura Poitras
Category: IIA

As much as itresembles a conspiracy thriller in which data encryption is a survival tactic, must be considered, above all, a journalistic achievement. The Oscar-winning documentary literally puts the viewer in the room where Edward Snowden, then a 29-year-old contractor of the US National Security Agency, was making history.

This third instalment of Laura Poitras' post-9/11 trilogy took shape when, in January 2013, the Berlin-based director-producer began receiving emails from a purported whistle-blower — code-named "Citizenfour" — intent on exposing the unprecedented intrusion by the NSA's covert surveillance programmes into the privacy of ordinary citizens.

The film is bookended by footage that establishes the NSA's recent history of denial and reflects on the aftermath since Snowden fled to Moscow. But the core of is without doubt the extensive interviews that he clandestinely gave Poitras and reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill in Hong Kong in June 2013.

Poitras' fly-on-the-wall access to Snowden's eight paranoid days holed up in the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui also feeds into his image as a tragic hero, who readily acknowledged the risk he was taking, occasionally lamented his separation from his family and girlfriend, and didn't hesitate to lapse into profanity when the discussion touched on forces out to get him.

A sensational scoop if ever there was one, reveals its larger ambition: here's a compelling documentary that also stands a chance of changing the course of America's civil liberties in the digital age.