Untangling Citizen Four from Citizen Fear, the film premier


“What do you care what the NSA are doing?” asked a lad in a pub before I watched Citizen Four. I’d asked him for a cigarette, he asked for my number and this question came somewhere in between. He’s right, I went to the premier to experience the novelty of a live satellite event in a cinema. Secondly, I’m a fan of investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. Thirdly I was interested in how the film-maker had decided to handle an historic event that happened online and in one hotel room. No NSA on that list.

What I experienced along with a full cinema audience had me pinned to my seat, eyebrows raised for a spine-tingling hour. We watched a Watergate for our times unfold, with Carl Bernstein recast as a woman with a camera, Bob Woodward an openly gay blogger in Rio and Deep Throat, a gentle, fresh-faced twenty-nine year old nerd. Hello 2014, you have my full attention. The first reaction from the audience when the credits rolled was one of stunned silence. What had we just seen? And was it one of what I’ve started calling “naked-gran moments”, once seen it cannot be un-seen, and life will never be the same?! Lately, these just keep coming.

Watching these journalists act quickly to distill the game-changing information for the masses is inspiring. A profound reminder of how vital the freedoms of each newspaper that investigated and ran the story are. Then, post-film, a moment of NSA/GCHQ-fuelled paranoia flashed upon my own life – being that I understand climate scientists are routinely threatened and harassed, I wondered, how close to that candle would I fly? Feet back on earth, everything will be fine. But still with me as I land is the conclusion that the moments in Citizen Four with all the journalists and Edward Snowden in the hotel room, are electrifying.

But herein lies the question, and I don’t believe that it’s a Gordion knot – how to differentiate between Citizen Four and Citizen Fear? The omnipresent theme that’s been everywhere since my return to Britain after nine years abroad – fear. It’s like a rampant commodity being pumped out by the government and all medias; I’ve heard it all laughingly referred to as BBC Fear. Some people’s capacity for fear is maxed out and they’re dissociating, many can’t get enough and feed it while a few others walk through it, brushing it off when/if they notice it hooking in. For eight years in France I lived fear-free. For one year living in the US I was regularly amused by clearly distorted, clearly hysterical fear-fantasies from the media. With an Anglo-Saxon fear virus whose true focus seems to be fogging what’s really going on, will Citizen Four get lost in all that?

I understand that Snowden sacrificed for all of us and but like the average person I don’t wholly get what the parameters of the leaked information means (and, say I did and wanted to act, where do I direct that energy?) That said, I’m grateful that the film didn’t stray into preaching or prescribing but remained focused on the story.

Fracking will be the test between the British people and the morality of GCHQ. If the Tories let industries loose on the land then everyone from parents to pensioners, regardless of class or political leanings, will become activists. In accepting Bush’s fantastical ‘War On Terror’ Britain invited a vampire into its house that hypnotised with an illusion of fear with one hand and cut civil rights and public resources with the other. I’ve come back to a country that’s been tricked then hemmed in by the forces of its own collective wound – island mentality.

Finally, not only in my time living abroad did I know a life without ‘radio fear’ and panic in the papers, but also learned about conscious thinking. About nurturing breathing space and choice in how I react to any emotions provoked by events, let’s call it reason. Nowhere is this being tested more than in the UK where the media’s assault on peoples calm is relentless. It’s tiresome, actually. So, while I’m getting the hang of experiencing the “naked-gran moments” of this Decade Zero world, and experienced Citizen Four as a human with emotions, I’ll digest it using reason and less heightened paranoia. In the wake of watching this brilliant and necessary documentary, I welcome more discussion in the media and online. Could we just ease up on the fear?!

Update Oct 26, 2014: Last night Glenn Greenwald gave a live talk in Ottowa followed by a Q&A – it’s brief, to the point and brilliant. The last question sheds light not only on Snowdon’s motivations but also how we interact as humans, and what the effect of NSA spying has on that ie. why should we care?

Greenwald’s TED talk, Oct 10, 2014 titled ‘Why Privacy Matters’, posted here: 

Documentary trailer: