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As I was watching Citizenfour during this week’s screening, a thought occurred to me.  It was simple and obvious and yet somehow hadn’t really registered in my brain even halfway through the viewing: the reality of NSA surveillance is terrifying.  The notion that my very existence can be tracked at all times by adding a narrative to unwillingly collected metadata is something that should be wholly creepy and unsettling, like walking through life with a camera focused on my figure.

However, as I watched Edward Snowden struggle to settle his moussed hair into a less-than-obnoxious style, I realized that the cinematographic decisions made by the director were detracting from the gravity of the subject matter.  On one hand, the entertaining insertions of awkwardly dry comedy and distinctly human moments made me feel invested in the figure of Edward Snowden and the story he had to tell.  However, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but find myself caring a little too much about Snowden the man and too little about the gravity of what he was reporting.  Snowden himself frequently warned of this phenomenon occurring, debating with Greenwald about the timing of his stepping forward out of fear of diminishing the impact of his words by supplying the press with a distracting figure to project them onto.  Ultimately, I am left questioning Poitras’s intent in creating the work.  If her intent was to create an entertaining piece that is biographic in nature, I applaud her.  However, if her intent was to create an informative piece that was focused around best portraying the story, I question the stylistic decisions made.