“Citizenfour” is the rare doc that captures history as it happened. Laura Poitras was one of a select group of journalists in Edward Snowden’s inner orbit as the National Security Agency whistleblower unveiled documents exposing the U.S. government’s vast surveillance programs. Her camera captured a team of reporters and the world’s most infamous hacker in a Hong Kong hotel room as they broke one of the biggest stories of the decade.
Does Snowden know about your nomination?
I did touch base with him, so he knows. He had a joke. He said, “I wasn’t so sure it was such a good idea to have cameras involved.”
Do you think Snowden is a traitor for sharing classified documents?
I don’t think he’s a traitor, but that’s for people to make their own judgments. He felt the public had the right to know that the government was spying on U.S. citizens.
With “My Country, My Country,” “The Oath” and now “Citizenfour,” you’ve turned a critical eye on U.S. foreign policy. What interests you about the topic?
As an American citizen, I was seeing things that I felt were not OK. I think we’re going to look back on the war in Iraq, and Guantanamo, with great shame. It goes against the Constitution and our basic principles, it doesn’t make us safer, and I wanted to say something about it. I’ve been documenting post-9/11 America for a decade, and I keep waiting for a shift, but we’re still suffering from a moral drift. I don’t want executive power to increase to the point where presidents have the ability to wage wars and do things in secret without any checks. The drone-killing program is frightening. We’re not a country that assassinates people from the air.
Is it true that you keep getting detained and searched while traveling?
After I made “My Country, My Country” I ended up on some watch list and I’d get detained every time by border agents. In Newark, I was asked questions and I started taking notes. The officers threatened to handcuff me because they said I might use my pen as a weapon.