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1984? No, “Citizenfour” Oscar nominated documentary

February 17, 2015
Review by Ron Wells of Citizenfour. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Film, the title refers to Edward Snowden’s code name.  The Academy Awards will be held this Sunday, February 22.
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In 2013, computer analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents he had obtained from the National Security Agency detailing the extent of government surveillance of U.S. citizens. After going into hiding to avoid extradition and arrest, Snowden himself became a news story that threatened to eclipse the implications of the information he had revealed.
George Orwell was a few years off, but his novel, 1984, has now come true in more ways than even he could have imagined. Laura Poitras’ riveting and important documentary, Citizenfour, is enough to make anyone want to scream out loud that its contents can’t be true. This couldn’t really be happening. Not in the United States. Not in the land of the free.

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And yet this John Le Carre type of spy story is not fiction. It is very, very real, and as scary as anything you will see on the big screen this year.
For the government has decided to gather metadata on every citizen in the United States, not to mention citizens of other countries and their leaders, no matter if they’re friend or foe.
This has not come about under one administration, but has been steadily growing for decades now, under both Republican and Democratic regimes. This is not about taking sides. It’s about a secret government system that has determined that it is best to know everything about every person in this country. If you talk on the phone. They know. If you go on the internet. They know. If you buy something. They know. There is nothing that is beyond their scope.
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This is all because we’re “at war,” and this is for “our own protection.”
And if the war should end, what then? Orwell would just laugh. He knows that the wars will never end. And thus, the secret NSA will be in business forever. Just look at that mega-complex they’ve built in Utah. Do you suppose that will ever be dismantled?
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Against this backdrop, one man steps up and dares to blow the whistle on these secret government activities. No matter what you think of Edward Snowden, you must see this film to get a real feel for the man that this country wants to capture more than any other.
Poitras made this documentary after reporting on the Iraq war and suddenly finding herself on the “watch list” of the U.S. government.
When Snowden contacts her, she asks why he chose her to give his information to. He answers, “I didn’t choose you, they chose you.”
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Along with Glenn Greenwald, the two journalists covertly sneak into Hong Kong where Snowden is holed up. The information he discloses to them is as big as anything Orwell envisioned in 1984. Corporations such as AT& T have given the government access to 320 million phone calls. Yahoo, Apple, Goggle, Verizon have also been giving all of their customers information away in the name of “national security.” And he insinuates that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The film shows Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, lying to Congress.
And yet he remained as the NSA’s head man, and nothing was done to him. Imagine an ordinary citizen lying to Congress, and then being hauled off to federal prison. How did he get away with this?
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Later, as explained here, one credit card purchase can allow the government to follow you wherever you go, and find out whatever you are doing.
As the film points out this is not about “surveillance,” this is about “control.”
Every dictatorship in the history of humankind has sought information that would allow it to control the populace. Watch the film and then you be the judge.
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The story moves rapidly and with Poitras insider viewpoint the audience is allowed to see exactly how all of this works while watching Snowden slowly guide everyone along as to who he is, what he knows, how he knows it, and what the implications are for everyone, including himself. It is beyond riveting. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy comes to real life.
You may think that all of this is just mumbo-jumbo and has nothing to do with you.
That’s exactly what the government and the corporations are hoping for. They want you to think Big Brother was just a work of fiction.
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Yet, the truth is that someone is constantly keeping track of you. It is now as real as that tweet you just sent, or that website you just visited. If you don’t believe me, then just go see this incisive, fast-paced documentary. It’s as if Orwell’s Winston Smith were talking directly to you.
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