By Dustin Volz, National Journal
Citizenfour, a film chronicling the living history of Edward Snowden’s unprecedented heist of U.S. government secrets, won the Academy Award for best documentary Sunday night—an unusual feat for a movie so critical of a sitting president’s policies.
Directed by Laura Poitras, the political thriller captures Snowden in a claustrophobic Hong Kong hotel room in the days leading up to and after the release of the first of batch of classified documents that publicly revealed the sweeping scope of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of phone and Internet communications.
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” Poitras, who also co-produced the film, said during her acceptance speech. “When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.”
In a statement provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden applauded Poitras and the movie as “a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received.”
Snowden, who lives in Russia under asylum, added, “My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”
The award serves as a testament to the continued cultural and political relevance of the Snowden leaks, which began in June 2013 and continue to drip out even today. Last week, The Intercept published new Snowden documents detailing a joint operation in which American and British spies hacked into a Dutch SIM-card manufacturer and stole millions of cell-phone encryption keys.
Snowden supporters will likely seize on the award as further validation that his actions—which some politicians continue to claim were treasonous and undermined national security—were justified. The win also amounts to a tacit rebuke by Hollywood of the Obama administration’s civil-liberties record, a sensitive issue for an industry that was once dogged by accusations of communist sympathies during the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s.
“Edward Snowden could not be here for some treason,” Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris jokingly quipped after the award was given.
Photo credit: DokeyHotey