For well over a year I have been gripped by Edward Snowden's exposure of mass surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ, surveillance of all of us. I have read the books by Luke Harding (The Snowden Files) and Glenn Greenwald (No Place to Hide) and consider myself fairly well-informed about the whole story. Modestly staying in the background of the story has been the film-maker Laura Poitras (although both Greenwald and Harding both praise her role in bringing Snowden's story to public attention).
Poitras' major role in the story is her film Citizenfour, recently released and which I have just watched. In saying that I do not want to minimize her role as the journalist with whom Snowden first established contact and her fearless investigation with Greenwald in many parts of the world as she developed her story. But it is surely as the film-maker of Citizenfour that she will be remembered. The film is brilliant and everyone should see it.
As well as being an account of how the story came to the world's attention it is also a personal account of Snowden's bravery, skill and intelligence; perhaps not everyone will agree with me that he is the greatest hero of our age but his personal qualities cannot be doubted.
In the last week I have seen two other films about heroes: Martin Luther King (Selma) and Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything). These are films about heroism where the principals are either dead or their achievements are in the past. In contrast Edward Snowden's heroism will be needed to sustain him for many years to come and, of course, his story is very recent indeed. This is why it is so important to see Citizenfour. It is not just a gripping drama whose immediacy stems from its brilliant camera work; it is immediate because it informs us about the threat today to our democratic freedoms from the authorities who watch our every move speciously claiming to keep us safe.
As I write these comments news has just broken that the film has won the 2015 Oscar for Best Documentary film; welcome news indeed because it will now attract a larger viewing audience. Public awareness about our surveillance states is very important because, unless there is a public mood to restore our privacy, things will only get worse.
We need to have open debates about the degree of intrusion we can tolerate without surrendering our privacy (such as begun here). At present I would say that we are far from the situation that prevailed over Civil Rights in 1960s America where at least the basic principles of Civil Rights were enshrined in law. Our privacy laws are currently very weak and our rights to privacy are constantly being eroded either by stealth or by new laws. So go and see Citizenfour and add your voice to protect our democracies from our governments.