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Edward Snowden

Hong Kong in cinema spotlight in documentary on Edward Snowden

Film includes scenes of the US whistleblower meeting reporters at his Tsim Sha Tsui hotel

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 October, 2014, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 October, 2014, 6:01pm

Hong Kong takes centre stage in a new documentary about US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, with dramatic scenes showing the final moments before he is whisked away from his hotel room in Tsim Sha Tsui to go into hiding.

Called Citizenfour, the two-hour film was shot in several countries where the Snowden saga has played out, including Moscow, where the 31-year-old is currently living with his long-time girlfriend Lindsay Mills.

Since Snowden exposed mass cybersurveillance carried out in secret by the US and British governments last June, it has been speculated that the couple, who had previously been living together in Hawaii, were no longer together.

But in candid scenes shot in Russia last month, the former National Security Agency contractor and Mills are shown cooking together in an apartment in Moscow.

Ewen MacAskill, one of the reporters who broke the first stories that catapulted Snowden onto the international stage, attended the world premiere on Friday at the New York Film Festival.

"Although I am in it and am biased, I thought it is a brilliant portrait of Snowden, showing him to be serious and with a sense of humour," MacAskill said yesterday, just hours after attending the screening and an after-party, which Snowden's father and other family members also attended.

The film will premiere in Britain this Friday at the London Film Festival, with a wider release slated for October 24. It is not known if the film will be released in Hong Kong.

WATCH: The Citizenfour trailer

Directed by US filmmaker Laura Poitras and with Steven Soderbergh as one of its executive producers, the film has been described as a "docu-thriller" that traces Snowden's time in Hong Kong, as well as including scenes at the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London.

Snowden shared his thoughts about the film with The Guardian: "I hope people won't see this as a story about heroism. It's actually a story about what ordinary people can do in extraordinary circumstances."

The Hong Kong footage features the first time MacAskill meets Snowden at the Mira Hotel, capturing "the sense of paranoia in the room during the interviews", The Guardian reporter said.

Another scene shows Snowden's last morning at the hotel, just hours after a 12-minute video revealed him as the source of the leaks.

"He is told the media pack is about to descend on him and even takes a phone call from a WSJ [The Wall Street Journal] reporter, though he denies he is Snowden," MacAskill said.

"He shaves a bit and combs his hair in a different way as a kind of rudimentary disguise."

In a desperate attempt to escape reporters, Snowden hides in Poitras' room at the same hotel.

Referring to the two Hong Kong lawyers who represented Snowden during his time in the city, MacAskill says: "Jonathan Man arrives and can be heard on the phone talking to Robert Tibbo about where to take him next, and they agree on the UNHCR."

The name of the film is the email alias that Snowden used to contact Poitras. It is the final film in a trilogy about the world after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Additional reporting by Reuters