About 20 minutes into this electrifying, often terrifying documentary, the film-maker shows for the first time the man we have come to know as Edward Snowden. The ex-NSA employee who blew the whistle on the US Government's spying on its citizens is a familiar face only because of 24 hours of interviews this film's maker compiled over eight days in a Hong Kong hotel room. But when he first appears, he's talking to Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald about how they will deal with what Greenwald calls "the 'you' story".
Lamenting the modern media's "focus on personalities", Snowden offers his co-operation, but makes the point that "I am not the story here".
The US Government's attempts to shut down Snowden depended on making him, rather than what he revealed, the story and this film redresses that by not making Snowden its focus.
Rather it catalogues, in chilling detail, the steady and remorseless corruption of the relationship between citizen and state that has occurred in freedom's name since 9/11.
The film takes its title from the name Snowden adopted when, using encrypted email, he contacted the film-maker, who had selected herself, he told her, with films about Iraq and Guantanamo that had earned her a place on a watchlist.
"From now," he writes, "know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep ... is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not."
That baleful email sets the tone for a documentary whose measured approach belies its pulsating spy-thriller energy. Of its three acts, the first two, which document the initial contact and the eight-day meet-up are certainly the more gripping - the final third, which focuses on global consequences we are more familiar with, is looser and less coherent.
But it gives us a ringside seat at a big moment in recent history - and, not incidentally, underlines the speciousness of John Key's claim that the collection of communications metadata is innocuous.
"Your metadata tells the story of your life," Snowden says. And later: "We are building the greatest weapon for oppression in the history of man, yet its directors exempt themselves from accountability."
This is a brave, bold and important film.
Director: Laura Poitras
Running Time: 114 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: an electrifying and often terrifying documentary about the edward snowden revelations.
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