Ed­ward Snow­den did what no other per­son would do – ex­pose the gov­ern­ment. Now Oliver Stone has taken on his com­plex story

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - LIND­SEY BAHR

Oliver Stone had no de­sire to make a movie about Ed­ward Snow­den. That might seem sur­pris­ing for a man who has tack­led ev­ery­thing from the Viet­nam War to the as­sas­si­na­tion of John F. Kennedy in his 40-some years as a film­maker. Wasn’t Stone tai­lor-made for the story of the NSA whistle­blower?

Per­haps, but he’d been burned a few too many times lately. There was the Martin Luther King, Jr. movie that fell apart and the My Lai movie, too. Plus he re­ally didn’t want to do “a com­puter movie”.

“You stay away from hot cur­rent top­ics be­cause they change, the winds change, some­thing changes, a new per­son comes out of the wood­work, law­suits,” Stone says in an in­ter­view with Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt, who plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Snow­den. “It’s just a night­mare to do a liv­ing per­son.”

And yet, some­how, Stone found him­self in Moscow with his long­time pro­duc­ing part­ner, Moritz Bor­man, Snow­den, and Snow­den’s Rus­sian lawyer talk­ing about just that.

“I was wary of the movie and (Snow­den) was wary of a movie,” Stone says.

In fact, Stone was con­sid­er­ing mak­ing some­thing en­tirely fic­tional. Snow­den’s lawyer had writ­ten a “Dos­toyevsky-like” novel in­spired by the or­deal that was on the ta­ble. Stone had also thought about a ver­sion where the char­ac­ter is chased in Rus­sia, like “a Bourne Iden­tity”, some­thing where he goes back to hide in the US, or maybe even a James Bond- type story.

“The re­al­ity of course is much stiffer. There are no guns, there are no chases, there’s no vi­o­lence in the movie, and a typ­i­cal coder at the NSA is not that in­ter­est­ing,” Stone says.

He grap­pled with ques­tions about how to make it ex­cit­ing – “a movie as op­posed to a doc­u­men­tary”.

Still, in the end, he de­cided to stay small, and make a more re­al­is­tic “dra­matic in­ter­pre­ta­tion” of Snow­den’s 10-year jour­ney from sol­dier to the man who leaked thou­sands of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments ex­pos­ing the gov­ern­ment’s mass sur­veil­lance of pri­vate cit­i­zens. Snow­den is also told in par­al­lel with that piv­otal 2013 meet­ing in Hong Kong with Glenn Green­wald, Ewan Ma­cAskill and doc­u­men­tar­ian Laura Poitras, which was chron­i­cled in the Os­car­win­ning Ci­ti­zen­four.

Stone had “enor­mous prob­lems” fi­nanc­ing the movie. The ma­jor stu­dios shied away from it, and he had to cob­ble to­gether money from France and Ger­many. He also got a life­line from Open Road Films, the in­de­pen­dent com­pany be­hind last year’s best pic­ture win­ner Spot­light.

The sil­ver lin­ing was that Stone had the sup­port of Snow­den him­self. That ended up be­ing piv­otal to Gor­donLe­vitt, who took on the chal­lenge of dis­ap­pear­ing into the ti­tle role. Snow­den is even out pro­mot­ing the film from his ex­ile in Moscow.

“I don’t think any­body looks for­ward to hav­ing a movie made about them­selves, par­tic­u­larly some­one who is a pri­vacy ad­vo­cate,” Snow­den told an au­di­ence via live Google Han­gout in July, but said that there was a “kind of magic” to the film and its po­ten­tial abil­ity to reach a large au­di­ence through sto­ry­telling. “It was some­thing that made me re­ally ner­vous but I think it worked.”

For Gor­don-Le­vitt, the film gives the Snow­den story an emo­tional depth that he be­lieves can be par­tic­u­larly res­o­nant to the masses.

“You un­der­stand why as a hu­man be­ing he de­cided to do what he did. That’s re­ally a great en­tre into un­der­stand­ing what all is go­ing on,” Gor­donLe­vitt says. “Hope­fully it will in­spire peo­ple to think about it them­selves.”

Gor­don-Le­vitt and Stone are in some ways po­lar op­po­sites – Stone be­ing the con­spir­acy the­o­rist film­maker of our time, and Gor­don-Le­vitt as the brain­child of the un­wa­ver­ingly pos­i­tive open source pro­duc­tion com­pany HitRecord.

Still, Gor­don-Le­vitt recog­nises Stone’s unique drive to tackle sub­jects oth­ers might think too nu­clear.

“Oliver is the only one who could have made this movie,” he says. “He’s the only film­maker who is will­ing to say: ‘I love my coun­try but this thing that the gov­ern­ment is do­ing isn’t right and we should look at it.’ No one else does that as point­edly and coura­geously as Oliver does.” Snow­den opens to­day

Snow­den says we are “build­ing the big­gest weapon for op­pres­sion in the his­tory of mankind” – the min­ing of per­sonal data.

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