Citizenfour :: Horrible History in the Making…

Cineville - Citizenfour

Essentially, Citizenfour is eight days in a Hong Kong hotel room with Edward Snowden and a couple of journalists, talking – and typing – about the government. Action-wise, it’s up there with My Dinner With Andre, and yet, it’s never less than breath-holdingly, heart-stoppingly tense. And knowing how it ends makes it no less tense.

Unless you absolutely insist upon lashings of kiss kiss bang bang and a huge car chase when you go to the cinema, or unless you’re simply too shallow to grasp the gravity of the subject matter, Citizenfour will hold you entranced throughout, filling you slowly with creeping cold terror, then anger, and finally despair. I felt like the frog Gore Vidal often mentioned, the one that’s placed in a pan of cold water then gradually, incrementally – so gradual that it doesn’t even notice it – is boiled to death. That’s what we are. That’s what we all are.

Jesus. When you look around and see what we’ve come to. The extent of the tyranny we allow to exist. It’s really scary.

Someone will rise up though, right? I mean, not someone, but some people, some people will come together and do things, things that will enlighten and inspire some other people to do more equally inspiring things and resistance will continue to grow and coalesce. I mean, that’s what happens, right? A Snowden here. A Manning there. An Aung San Suu Kyi here. A Frieda Menco there. We just keep going. Some of us keep trying. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Cineville - Citizenfour


So anyway, the film. Yes. There is a breathlessness about it. You feel paranoid. Rightly paranoid. And there is a palpable excitement as we move with the journalists and with Snowden towards the moment when the whistle is blown and the whole world is changed and the full extent of the Truth is revealed.

The film has a sense of living in the moment as history is made like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We are literally watching history in action. And I know there are those that disagree, but they're wrong. Snowden for me is a genuine hero. There are some moving moments in this documentary too, when we realise not just what these revelations mean for the whole of humankind, but what they mean to Snowden himself. He knows he might never see his family or girlfriend ever again. He knows his life as an ordinary person is over.

Edward Snowden’s sacrifice and his humility are extraordinary to me. As is his intelligence and eloquence. As is his fearlessness. And his optimism. Ultimately, Snowden is hopeful that people can triumph over fascism. And if he’s optimistic, then I figure I had better be optimistic too.

There are also some wonderful ‘FUCK YOU!’ moments where the anger of rebellion is voiced and you want to rise up out of your seat and cheer.

And of course there are moments of furious horror, such as the clips of important men lying to Congress – former NSA director General Keith Alexander for one, Head of National Intelligence James R Clapper for two. These scenes – plus the whole notion of surveillance being a key tool in "the War on Terror", which is just brilliant, you have to admit – give rise to an overall feeling of almost overwhelming helplessness.

The more the reality hits home, the harder it is to know how to respond. It’s like, oh – there really is no such thing as privacy anymore, there really is no freedom. Oh.

Now what?

I mentioned this in the review for Shadow World and I'm afraid I have to mention it again here. Something Snowden said in an interview the day after Trump won the election. This:


"We should be cautious about putting too much faith or fear in the work of elected officials. At the end of the day, this is just a president. If we want to build or live or enjoy the fruits of a better world - if we want to make sure that the rights that we have encoded into our laws are actually reliable, that we live with them and pass them to our children - this will never be the work of politicians; this can only be the work of the people, of the population....

"Ultimately if we want to see a change, we must force it through ourselves. If we want to have a better world, we cannot hope for an Obama and we should not fear a Donald Trump. Rather, we should build it ourselves."


Keep hope alive. Buy a copy of Citizenfour. Spread it around. People need to know.


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Cineville - Citizenfour


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The Viewing

This was my first time at LAB111 and compared to some of the others, the auditorium (Zaal 4, 50-seater) seemed a little bit stark at first. A little cold maybe, and desolate. Then I realised that it was actually perfectly salubrious, but the only real difference was that instead of the usual cinema-red, all of the decor was blue. Plus there was none of the pre-film guff of most normal cinemas. No sound, no visuals, no perfumes, no preservatives, no frills, no bullshit, just a film, with the same guy who sold you the ticket popping in at the last minute, switching on the film, turning off the light and closing the door on his way out.

And as it happens, the colour scheme and concomitant chill of the zaal was perfect for Citizenfour. The chill factor was high. I had chills, and they were multiplying. And of course I do not refer to the kind of chilling to which dem yoot refer when they be smoking hench puff and having bear giggles. No. Au contraire. I mean we are living in a totalitarian regime and it’s completely fucking overwhelming.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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