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Snowden YouTube Film Delivers Digital Snapshot

Espionage quickie taps into zeitgeist, internet freedom issues

HONG KONG–The team of Hong Kong film makers who last week delivered “Verax”, a short film about fugitive former NSA operative Edward Snowden, say they were propelled by an urge to get beyond the media headlines.

The picture was made by a quartet of semi-professionals comprising Jeff Floro (謝夫發露), Edwin Lee (李健恩), Shawn Tse (謝兆龍) and Marcus Tsui (崔正傑), and was posted to YouTube late last week. It was scripted by Tsui and Lee.

“First it was a snapshot in time. When Snowden popped up in Hong Kong he got so much attention that it really got people talking. We wanted to give an alternative view on the situation, beyond the media chase for where he was and what he knew,” Lee, a former TV and multimedia journalist with Hong Kong’s ATV and the South China Morning Post, told Variety.

Others on the team see “Verax” in more political terms. “The US government has abused the internet, so our response is to use the power of the internet, for hopefully good reasons,” associate producer Cassandra Chan said.

The film was shot over a period of four days, at a time when Snowden was still in the territory, though the film-makers did not contact him. Its narrative runs from the moment a CIA team discovers that Snowden is leaking classified information, to the point when he reveals himself to the world’s media. A post-script announces that he departed Hong Kong on June 23.

A pacy five-minute fictionalization, “Verax” has strong production values, driving music and somewhat more amateurish acting performances.

It takes in major Hong Kong landmarks and a series of office interiors, including one borrowed from a friendly lingerie company. The largest single item on the picture’s US$550 (HK$4,200) budget was a day’s rental of a room at the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, where Snowden holed up for two weeks before going public with his allegations against the US government about internet snooping, wire-tapping and spying.

“We were interested in why would someone like that come to Hong Kong to reveal that kind of information?,” Lee said.

The Snowden incident has provoked significant public attention within Hong Kong. Snowden said he chose the territory after fleeing the US because of Hong Kong’s tradition of free speech and liberty.

Snowden’s commendation of Hong Kong came at a time when many people in the territory feel that the government of the Special Administrative Region is willing to give let slip many of the territory’s freedoms in order to foster closer political and economic ties with mainland China.

Before Snowden fled Hong Kong on a plane for Moscow several hundred people rallied in mid June outside the US Consulate and Hong Kong Government offices in support of the whistleblower.

The Snowden incident may also have fuelled participation at today’s annual July 1 pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong. Despite heavy rains brought on by the onset of a tropical storm, crowds were estimated by government media to be in the “hundreds of thousands.”

‘Verax’ was the alias Snowden used when contacting journalists through encrypted chat services.

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