citizenfour – on the documentary

thurs. 3/9/2017 12pm

If I were to be a filmmaker, I would find the documentary a genre terribly difficult to execute. Not only do you want to present the information in a way that can engage the spectator, but you also want to give the spectators a chance to think on their own (and if not, present your own opinions in a way not too overt). But even before then, you’d have to go out into the real world and film real things (this is why I was shocked upon reading that Robert Flaherty did not have truly genuine scenes within his works). This also presents a sort of danger to the filmmaker, because of restrictions in terms of privacy and civil rights.

This is why I sincerely admire Laura Poitras for her work with Citizenfour – the film itself quite literally affected her life in such a big way such that she cannot simply returnhome to America. Citizenfour was a unique documentary because it revealed footage no one had ever seen, so in a sense Poitras had complete power over the spectators because at the time it was released, Edward Snowden was still very much “on the run.” She presented the scenes within the bedroom very simply, just a long take with no cuts, showing the camera movements, because everything was new for the spectator and this was a man the whole world had eyes on. Because of these elongated shots in a private hotel room I found myself feeling connected to Snowden himself, as if I were in there with him, holding my breath near any machine with electricity. While clearly with political motive, the documentary also succeeds in making personal a man the world only had exposure through news sources, and its the context around the film that makes it so crucial.

 

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