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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Citizenfour is a 2014 Oscar-winning documentary covering the tension-filled days before, during, and after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the depth and extent of NSA/U.S. government surveillance of its own citizens as well as citizens in many other countries. In one scene, "f--k" is used repeatedly in conversation. Whether you agree or disagree with Snowden's actions, this documentary, just like the revelations Snowden's leaks revealed, should inspire discussion among families on topics such as the power of one person to change the world, privacy, how much is "too much" when it comes to governments protecting their citizens through surveillance, government oppression and suppression, the effect massive surveillance has on its citizenry, and what freedom means in light of Snowden's revelations.
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What's the story?
Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras is contacted through encrypted email by someone who goes by "Citizenfour." "Citizenfour" claims to have evidence of extensive and illegal surveillance conducted by the NSA, working with intelligence agencies around the world. Poitras, along with investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, agree to meet with "Citizenfour" in a Hong Kong hotel room. "Citizenfour" is one Edward Snowden, an employee for an NSA contractor who provides them with hundreds of pages of classified NSA documents detailing "the greatest weapon of oppression in the history of man." This documentary chronicles the days before, during, and after Snowden's revelations become the world's top news story. It also shows the extent to which the U.S. and other governments seek to punish Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald for their shocking revelations.
Is it any good?
For those who followed these events on the news, this documentary reveals nothing new, but what we do see is Snowden himself. He remains a secret as long as he possibly can in the hopes that the story itself will be covered rather than the focus being on the media's obsession with "celebrity." He has deep convictions and well-thought-out reasons for what he did, and he's well-aware of the consequences.
Whether you agree or disagree with Edward Snowden's actions, the overall portrait that emerges in CITIZENFOUR is of an American citizen willing to give up his normal and successful life in the interests of fighting what he calls "the greatest weapon for oppression in the history of man." The moments of tension and paranoia are heightened through the moments of banality: a man sitting in a Hong Kong hotel room combing his hair or working on his computer while music videos play on TV, all in the immediate moments before, during, and after his revelations shock the world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the style of this documentary. How is information presented? How is Edward Snowden portrayed? How about the filmmaker herself, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and whistleblower William Binney?
How would this documentary be different had it been made by someone who believed Edward Snowden is a traitor whose actions jeopardized the safety and security of his own country?
How does the scene in which the Occupy Wall Street speaker explains how something as ordinary as a subway fare card can be used by the government to monitor its citizenry provide a context for the NSA's extensive access to so much information?
How important is privacy to you?
- In theaters: October 24, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: August 25, 2015
- Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney
- Director: Laura Poitras
- Studio: Starz Media
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Language.
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
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