The first glimpse the world had of Edward Snowden was in a short video in a dark Hong Kong hotel room. But film-maker Laura Poitras’ journey with the NSA whistleblower began much earlier.
Her film Citizenfour, which opens in Australia after winning best documentary at the Baftas, captures both Edward Snowden’s story and the story of the wide-ranging surveillance network that has burgeoned in the decade since 9/11. Poitras spoke to Guardian Australia about Snowden, his revelations and the possibility of further stories about Australia’s role in intelligence-gathering and surveillance.
Your film captures the impact of Snowden’s disclosures on the world but also presents a very personal portrait of Snowden and others who have spoken out about these issues. What have the past 18 months shown you about what it means to be a whistleblower?
When I think about Citizenfour, it’s clearly about the issue of NSA and surveillance and the dangers of that, but it’s a lot more about people who take a stance and make sacrifices when they see something they think is wrong and speak out. Why did [Snowden] do what he did? And how did he do it? I’m fascinated by that. I’m fascinated by those types of stories.
In all of my films there are broad themes, in this case surveillance and post-9/11 America, but I’m very much interested in individuals. So not just Snowden but Glenn [Greenwald, the journalist who scooped the NSA story].