Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s extraordinary depiction of the start of Edward Snowden’s NSA surveillance leaking extravaganza, has won the Academy Award for best documentary.
The film shows how Snowden got in touch with the activist film-maker using the titular pseudonym, and the Hong Kong interviews with Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill in which he started detailing what he knew from his time working at the NSA.
As a rare combination of rights activism, historical record and technological explainer, it is quite unlike any other documentary I have seen (I was lucky enough to catch it at its first showing in Berlin, where it had been edited – Poitras understandably wanted some distance between that process and U.S. intelligence services.)
In her acceptance speech on Sunday night, Poitras said Snowden’s disclosures “don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the decisions that rule us are taken in secret we lose the power to control and govern ourselves.”
Greenwald, who led the reporting on the leaks for the Guardian, joined Poitras on stage. Snowden was of course not there, still being holed up in Russia, but he was represented by his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who also briefly featured in the film. In a statement, Snowden said: “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.”