Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
What qualifies a film to be called the Best Documentary Feature of the year? To me, there is a label that I need to be able to put on that documentary to call it the best. That label is “once in a lifetime”. Obviously this label can land on a few documentaries every year, but for me to consider it above the rest, it needs to contain footage that is “once in a lifetime” or document a certain person’s life that feels “once in a lifetime” or bring to the surface a topic that is not getting the spotlight it deserves and in doing so, feels “once in a lifetime”.
Last year’s winner, “20 Feet From Stardom” did not feel “once in a lifetime”. It was a documentary about a group of female back-up singers that were featured on some of the most prolific songs in the past few decades. But couldn’t that documentary be made again with a different group of back-up singers from a different batch of iconic songs? We wouldn’t get the same stories, of course, but another iteration of this documentary could exist and, to top it off, interviews with musicians are not hard to come by. “The Act Of Killing,” on the other hand, interviewed former kill squad leaders from Indonesia. The director of the film would have them walk through how they killed people and by leaving a camera in front of them, the audience would watch these grown men slowly unravel. This, to me, felt “once in a lifetime”. How many times do you get a chance to speak with a death squad leader and have them open up about the cruel actions that they are actually praised for now? There should be no question which is the better film.
To get back to the point of “CitizenFour,” this is a “once in a lifetime” documentary. Everyone that I tell about this film cannot believe what is contained in the two hours of this run-time. We’re talking about having a camera behind the scenes during one of the most high profile government leaks in the history of the world. “CitizenFour” follows film-maker Laura Poitras, previously nominated for an Oscar for her work on “My Country, My Country” (2006), as she receives cryptic e-mails from an unknown source. Eventually setting up a meeting with this mysterious CitizenFour, Poitras finds herself in Hong Kong with Guardian columnist, Glenn Greenwald, to meet the writer of the coded e-mails. It turns out to be twenty-nine year old Edward Snowden, a computer analyst from North Carolina who discovered that the United States’ National Security Agency was keeping a shocking secret from the general public involving the interception and storage of private phone calls, texts, e-mails, and internet searches without proper authorization. Snowden, with the help of Poitras and Greenwald, continued to follow through with leaking this classified information.
Whether you heard about this story on the news or simply know the name Edward Snowden, the fact that there is a camera on him the days leading up to the leak and the days following the leak feels enormous. Not only are you getting to know this man firsthand, instead of what the government or the media is saying about him, but you are getting an in-depth look at why he did what he did and his firsthand reasoning. Once in a lifetime does the general public get to be privy to these major events and for that, it receives my label of “once in a lifetime”. Not only that, but any documentary that can call me to action or has me recommending the film for days, months, and years to come is the sign of a documentary that has what it takes to be the best of the year. To this day, I still recommend seeing “The Cove” (2009), “Chasing Ice” (2012), and “Blackfish” (2013) and from now on, “CitizenFour” will be on that list as well. Not to mention, the things happening in “CitizenFour” are happening right now. The leak happened in June 2013, meaning Snowden is still be sought for his actions and is still under asylum in Russia until he can find a country that will take him and not extradite him. I can tell you one thing, if this resurfaces in the media, if and when Snowden must return to the states, I will definitely be doing what I can.
What’s its competition? Having not seen any of the competitors, it is tough to call what documentary could challenge “CitizenFour”. With the much-loved Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself” not in contention for the award, it feels wide open for the Snowden documentary, especially with all the previous Critics Award support. Sight unseen, the topics in “Last Days In Vietnam” could prove successful or the heartwarming and suspenseful nature of protecting the endangered gorillas in “Virunga”. But until I see the others, “CitizenFour” is the documentary to beat.
// Produced by Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky //Directed by Laura Poitras //
// Dated Viewed: Saturday, January 17th, 2015 // Laemmle Music Hall // 43 films – 37 days //