By Jenna Palme ’17
Teens from all around New York City came to the Whitney Museum on Friday, April 8 to see Citizenfour. After the showing of the movie, Director Laura Poitras came to answer questions from the audience about the film and the filmmaking process.
The event was put together by Youth Insights leaders from the museum, whose goal is to spread the arts for teens. The next event that will be held at the Whitney from this group will be a Teen Night on May 8.
Citizenfour is a documentary about the Edward Snowden leaks from 2013 and the unauthorized surveillance of United States citizens. Snowden contacted Poitras only after the government started following her because of things she filmed during her time in Iraq. The documentary follows Poitras and fellow reporter Glenn Greenwald as they pick apart the files given to them and as they interview Snowden, figuring out why he leaked the information as it put him in danger. Before the Snowden leaks, on multiple occasions the leaders of the NSA denied being able to gather all this information on the citizens of the United States..
Before meeting Snowden, Poitras was terrified of being caught in the middle of everything before she could publish her stories about the leak. In order to prevent being caught by the government, Poitras bought a computer with cash that she would specifically use to speak to Snowden. She refused to use it in her home and went to multiple cafes to prevent tracking.
What inspired Snowden to contact Poitras in the first place was a short film in which she interviewed William Binney, who formerly worked at the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden wanted to speak with a journalist whom he knew wouldn’t back down from a possibly dangerous story.
At the event Poitras said that when she looked back at her footage, she was shocked by what she saw because in the moment she was filming she blocked out the initial reaction to what she was hearing because it was so appalling.
Snowden wanted to share this knowledge because he didn’t want the public to stop their search for knowledge just because the government was surveilling what they did He wanted to help start the end of government surveillance of the public. He didn’t want to be a martyr either, hence, him currently seeking safety in Russia.
Jillian Geist ’17 said, “It took a lot of courage to leak this information. It’s insane that millions of us are being monitored by the government and in doing so our privacy is diminished.”
She continued, “Many Americans don’t feel safe in the one place where they should, their own homes.”
Isabel Perez ’17 said, “I feel that it’s an invasion of privacy, and I don’t see why the NSA would want to listen in on phone calls when we have nothing to hide.”
While some feel that government surveillance of Americans is not justified, there are others like Clifford Young ’17 who believe it is.
“Even with the drastic measures taken, I believe the NSA measures are justified. With the new developments everyday regarding terrorist organizations, it is important for the government to remain one foot ahead of the people,” said Young.
After the publication of their articles on the leak, both Poitras and Greenwald were advised by their lawyers not to come back to the United States for a while because the government would likely try to get them with a subpoena (which is a way to force them into saying who their informant was, even though he already exposed himself.)
Poitras came back to America after a year and since the documents had created such a worldwide outcry, there was not much the government could do to the journalists about it. Poitras is still tracked and stopped at the border whenever she tries to travel. Also in her fear of being watched, Poitras didn’t carry a cell-phone for a year until she realized the convenience of having one.
Poitras said, “The state’s not there to protect a lot of people in the country.” She believes the government is working to amass power, not necessarily to protect the lives of American citizens.