Academy Awards: Citizenfour, A Laura Poitras’ film chronicling the living history of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's unprecedented heist of U.S. government secrets, won Hollywood’s highest accolade by snatching the Oscar for Best Documentary. An unusual feat for a movie so critical of U.S. policies.
"The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don't only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself," Laura Poitras, who also co-produced the film, said during her acceptance speech. "When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control."
It begins with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and film director Laura Poitras traveling to Hong Kong in June 2013 to become the first public figures to meet Edward Snowden – the government whistleblower and bring his findings to the world.
The political thriller captures Snowden in a claustrophobic Hong Kong hotel room in the days leading up to and after the release of the first of batch of classified documents that publicly revealed the sweeping scope of the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of phone and Internet communications.
In a statement provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden applauded Laura Poitras and the as "a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received."
Snowden added: "My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world."
The award serves as a testament to the continued cultural and political relevance of the Snowden leaks, which began in June 2013 and continue to drip out even today. Last week, The Intercept published new Snowden documents detailing a joint operation in which U.S. and British spies hacked into a Dutch SIM card manufacturer and stole millions of cell-phone encryption keys.
Snowden supporters will likely seize on the award as further validation that his actions—which some politicians continue to claim were treasonous and undermined national security—were justified. The win also amounts to a tacit rebuke by Hollywood of the Obama administration's civil-liberties record, a sensitive issue for an industry that was once dogged by accusations of communist sympathies during the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s.
"Edward Snowden could not be here for some treason," Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris jokingly quipped after the award was given.
Citizenfour also has succeeded where other documentaries critical of a sitting president have come up short. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which sharply ridiculed George W. Bush and the Iraq War, failed to earn a best documentary nomination in 2005, despite considerable attention and box office success.
Citizenfour is the final installment of a trilogy of films by Poitras that examine the post-9/11 tension between privacy and security during the Bush and Obama administrations. Though it documents in real time how Snowden orchestrated with Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald the release of government secrets that shocked a nation, the film is at its core a character study of a 29-year-old computer technician who felt compelled to risk his safety in order to leak a massive trove of classified secrets.
Laura Poitras currently lives in Berlin and has said she does not feel she could continue her work if she remained in the U.S. She was apparently placed on the Department of Homeland Security's terror watch list and was repeatedly detained at airports in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
February 22, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The following is a statement from Edward Snowden provided to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents him:
“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, had this reaction:
“Laura’s remarkable film has helped fuel a global debate on the dangers of mass surveillance and excessive government secrecy. The ACLU could not be more delighted that she has been recognized with an Academy Award.”