Edward Snowden’s Story as Re-told on Film

Written by Spencer Lanston. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Opinion

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Published on July 12, 2016 with 1 Comment

"Snowden", a movie by Oliver Stone, opens on September 16.

“Snowden”, a movie by Oliver Stone, opens in theaters September 16.

By Spencer Lanston

July 12, 2016

Edward Snowden has become a polarizing symbol for privacy among the digital age. Since his initial whistleblower activities, this former system administrator now works to both educate and advocate for government transparency. Today, Snowden is reaching past the constraints of mainstream media to directly interact with detractors and fans alike through a surprising medium: social media. Its emphasis on lack of privacy accents the strange journey of this American icon.

Snowden’s strange trip to fame and infamy started in 2013. While working for Booz Allen Hamilton, he began to notice suspicious programs directly related to the NSA. These programs often collected private information, including photos, videos and conversations. After collecting a wealth of classified data, Snowden fled to Hong Kong. His search for a safe haven led to an unlikely and uneasy settlement in Russia. As of 2016, he continues to live under the constraints of legal limbo.

It was the perfect storm for media. A young man standing up to his government and evading capture created a modern icon. While some outlets painted him as a hero, others were quick to defend the young transparency advocate. Snowden himself may have contributed to the public’s image due to some carefully planned movements with journalist Glenn Greenwald. Along with filmmaker Laura Poitras, Greenwald helped Snowden disseminate public-interest information, while protecting classified documents from falling into the wrong hands.

Hollywood loves a rebel and there is no better case of rebellion than the story of Edward Snowden. Poitras’ Academy Award-winning documentary Citizenfour presented an unflinching look at the entire story. The filmmaker was initially contacted by Snowden in 2013. From there, she chronicled not only Snowden’s story, but the extraordinary lengths she went to while presenting her subject. Poitras was careful to arrange and film meetings with the figure she was sure would become a household name. It’s a tricky proposition that every documentary filmmaker faces as they try to capture a fluid situation. Available for viewing through streaming services such as HBO and DTV, the intensity of Citizenfour mirrors anything seen in fiction based releases.

The story itself, as well as an intriguing protagonist, makes it the perfect subject for many filmmakers. Although Snowden may have been mentioned in previous works, his story has never been explored in the realm of dramatization. That changes with the release of Oliver Stone’s sure-to-be-controversial film, Snowden. An all-star lineup of heavy hitters brings the ultimate line blurring of Snowden’s initial actions. Does it make him no more than the establishment he fought against? Only filmgoers and the public can answer that. What remains certain is the film is unlikely to steer popular perceptions of this intriguing icon.

Whatever the public perception, Snowden remains a figure that is both historical and uniquely relevant. As the media continues to struggle with framing his current work as well as his legacy, Snowden will continue to remain in the public eye. With both Citizenfour and Snowden achieving unlimited availability, his story may yet again achieve another distinct view from privacy advocates throughout the world.

Spencer Lanston

Spencer Lanston is a busy blogger based in the Midwest. Currently living in Chicago, IL, he plans to attend graduate school in the fall to study Sustainable Urban Development at DePaul University. He’s a Sagittarius and his favorite food is grape ice cream.

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  1. A good but not great movie, worth watching to fully understand the story behind the headlines