Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Look at the Acclaimed New Documentary "Citizenfour"

Edward Snowden
It was a common cry coming out of the New York Film Festival: Citizenfour is a highly important documentary. From director Laura Poitras, the documentary follows the infamous scandal revolving around Edward Snowden who revealed that the government was spying on its citizens. It follows the days leading up to the day that he went public and features a lot of personal footage of the man as he discovers all of this incriminating evidence. Still, in the midst of a compelling subject, what exactly makes it so exceptional? Last year saw We Steal Secrets feature a documentary with another high profile renegade named Julian Assange. Despite initial acclaim, it disappeared quickly. Can Citizenfour manage to get a Best Documentary nomination based on subject matter alone?

The truth is that I don't know very much about the film or its subject. I know the broad context by which Snowden is known, but I cannot recall the impact felt afterwards. It could just be that I avoid political conversations as to not get into personal fights/sacrifice my career. With that said, I do not wish to press any political stance here on any hard hitting documentary such as Citizenfour. I will do my best to discuss them objective and from their ability to present information. While I admit to giving a glowing review to Blackfish prematurely last year, it comes with growth. Now, onto the post!

He is a figure that has sparked some controversy and hasn't left the conversation since the revelation. Even then, the general buzz surrounding the film is that it captures something crucial to the American culture. It explores what security actually is and how Snowden felt like there was a breach in trust. If anything, the general response has been that the documentary is all about exploring America's safety and what it really means. Despite general complaints about atypical documentary techniques, the subject matter is too strong to ignore. Almost everyone who has seen it has called it "important" in ways that no documentary since The Act of Killing has been received.

With that said, check out the trailer:

It doesn't offer much for those who don't already know who Snowden is. However, the opening letter from an unnamed person is a rather compelling sell alone. It covers all of the bases for why this subject is important. While the renegade nature of Snowden's plan definitely has logical repercussions, to hear "Citizenfour" spill out the details gives a haunting idea of what's to come. Even if it is simply a documentary focusing on the few days leading up to the reveal, it should be a riveting. Much like Joshua Oppenheimer with The Act of Killing, it seems strangely effective that Poitras was around at the right time to cover the subject.

The only unfortunate news is that I am not good at guessing the chances of Best Documentary candidates unless they are really amazing and universally acclaimed. Even then, Citizenfour has already gotten enough positive buzz out of NYFF that it seems to be that way. This is more of an entry to raise awareness of the documentary than to share thoughts. However, it looks to be really good and  hopefully will continue to gain traction as time goes on. Much like The Act of Killing, it feels like a special message that will be relevant for awhile. Here's hoping that it wasn't just a fluke and that audiences and voters will also enjoy it and find something significant to take away from it.

Will Citizenfour get a Best Documentary nomination?

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