In between winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature last night and premiering “Citizenfour” on HBO tonight at 9pm, acclaimed documentarian Laura Poitras took to Reddit for an informative AMA alongside the film’s controversial subject, Edward Snowden, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. Here are seven of the best things we learned during the Reddit AMA:
The only thing Snowden regrets is not coming forward sooner.
When asked what he would change if he had the chance to do it all over again, an assured Snowden boldly proclaimed, “I would have come forward sooner…Had I come forward a little sooner, these programs would have been a little less entrenched, and those abusing them would have felt a little less familiar with and accustomed to the exercise of those powers. This is something we see in almost every sector of government, not just in the national security space, but it’s very important: Once you grant the government some new power or authority, it becomes exponentially more difficult to roll it back. Regardless of how little value a program or power has been shown to have, once it’s a sunk cost, once dollars and reputations have been invested in it, it’s hard to peel that back. Don’t let it happen in your country.”
Greenwald is surprised partisan lines haven’t divided in the wake of NSA controversies.
When one Reddit user asked how to make NSA spying a central issue in the 2016 Presidential Election, the question set off a chain reaction of answers. Greenwald keenly observed how Washington D.C. uses bipartisan consensus to make uncomfortable issues disappear. “The most interesting political fact about the NSA controversy, to me, was how the divisions didn’t break down at all on partisan lines,” Greenwald stated. “Huge amount of the support for our reporting came from the left, but a huge amount came from the right. When the first bill to ban the NSA domestic metadata program was introduced, it was tellingly sponsored by one of the most conservative Tea Party members (Justin Amash) and one of the most liberal (John Conyers).The problem is that the leadership of both parties, as usual, are in full agreement: they love NSA mass surveillance. So that has blocked it from receiving more debate. Some genuine dissenting force is crucial.”
Poitras refuses to give herself a professional label.
When asked whether or not she considered herself a journalist or a documentarian, the Oscar-winning filmmaker triumphantly replied, “I definitely consider myself a journalist, as well as an artist and a filmmaker. In my mind, it’s not a question about whether I am one or the other. Documentary films needs to do more than journalism – they need to communicate something that is more universal.”
Snowden and Greenwald brushed off Neil Patrick Harris’ “treason” joke.
In response to Neil Patrick Harris’ “treason” joke following Poitras’ Oscar victory, Snowden stated, “To be honest, I laughed at NPH. I don’t think it was meant as a political statement, but even if it was, that’s not so bad. My perspective is if you’re not willing to be called a few names to help out your country, you don’t care enough.” Greenwald, on the other hand, was less favorable, claiming “I was going to tweet something about it and decided it was too petty and inconsequential even to tweet about – just some lame word-play Oscar joke from a guy who had just been running around onstage in his underwear moments before. So I forgot about it. My reaction was similar to Ed’s, though I did think the joke was lame.”
Poitras has more footage waiting to be released.
“I do plan to release more footage from the Hong Kong shoot,” Poitras said when asked specifically about the scenes in the film that capture her and Greenwald’s meetings with Snowden in Hong Kong. “On the first day we met Ed, Glenn conducted a long interview (4-5 hours) that is extraordinary. I also conducted a separate interview with Ed re: technical questions. The time constraints of a feature film made it impossible to include everything. I will release more. I also filmed incredible footage with Julian Assange/WikiLeaks that we realized in the edit room was a separate film.”
Greenwald couldn’t be more against the U.S.’s treatment of Snowden.
“Edward Snowden should not be forced to choose between living in Russia or spending decades in a cage inside a high-security American prison,” Greenwald proclaimed. “DC officials and journalists are being extremely deceitful when they say: ‘if he thinks he did the right thing, he should come back and face trial and argue that.’ Under the Espionage Act, Snowden would be barred even from raising a defense of justification. The courts would not allow it. So he’d be barred from raising the defense they keep saying he should come back and raise. The goal of the US government is to threaten, bully and intimidate all whistleblowers – which is what explains the mistreatment and oppression of the heroic Chelsea Manning – because they think that climate of fear is crucial to deterring future whistleblowers. As long as they embrace that tactic, it’s hard to envision them letting Ed return to his country. But we as citizens should be much more interested in the question of why our government threatens and imprisons whistleblowers.”
Snowden is troubled by the way the government blockades its citizens.
When asked what everyday citizens can do to help stop NSA intrusion, Snowden responded, “One of the biggest problems in governance today is the difficulty faced by citizens looking to hold officials to account when they cross the line. We can develop new tools and traditions to protect our rights, and we can do our best to elect new and better representatives, but if we cannot enforce consequences on powerful officials for abusive behavior, we end up in a system where the incentives reward bad behavior post-election. That’s how we end up with candidates who say one thing but, once in power, do something radically different. How do you fix that? Good question.”
“Citizenfour” will have its broadcast premiere tonight at 9pm on HBO.