Snow­den film ‘al­most killed’ by self-cen­sor­ship

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

IT was the largest data leak in United States history, fu­elling a firestorm over the is­sue of mass sur­veil­lance that res­onated with Amer­i­cans and ig­nited around the world.

Oliver Stone’s hotly-an­tic­i­pated Snow­den, set for re­lease on Septem­ber 16, tells the story of NSA whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den in dra­matic form for the first time – but the movie al­most never made it the­aters.

“Frankly, it was turned down by ev­ery ma­jor stu­dio. The script was good, the bud­get was good, the cast was good. It was def­i­nitely … self-cen­sor­ship,” Stone, 69, told San Diego fan con­ven­tion Comic-Con In­ter­na­tional last week.

“I don’t be­lieve there was an en­emy such as the NSA lurk­ing in the back­ground. But def­i­nitely self­cen­sor­ship is a huge is­sue in this in­dus­try, and it blocks so much of the truth from com­ing out,” he said. “Ev­ery stu­dio, ev­ery cor­po­rate board that runs the stu­dio, more than the stu­dio peo­ple, said no.”

Snow­den was charged by US au­thor­i­ties with es­pi­onage and theft of state se­crets af­ter re­leas­ing thou­sands of clas­si­fied NSA doc­u­ments to jour­nal­ists Glenn Green­wald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill in 2013.

Con­sid­ered a traitor by some and a hero by oth­ers, the 33-year-old fled to Hong Kong and was given po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in Rus­sia af­ter the US re­voked his pass­port. The doc­u­ments he leaked re­vealed the ex­tent of sur­veil­lance pro­grams run by the NSA and started a de­bate about pri­vacy and the role of state se­cu­rity agen­cies which still rages to­day.

Stone was joined on stage at Comic-Con by cast mem­bers Zachary Quinto, Shai­lene Wood­ley and Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt – who plays Snow­den and ac­com­pa­nied the di­rec­tor to Moscow to meet the ex­iled se­cu­rity con­trac­tor.

Gor­don-Le­vitt de­scribes Snow­den as “very po­lite … al­most an old­fash­ioned gen­tle­man” who came across as warm and op­ti­mistic about how tech­nol­ogy can strengthen democ­racy.

“We sat and talked for hours. It was in­ter­est­ing be­cause I think most peo­ple that sit down and talk with him are ap­proach­ing him from the po­si­tion of pol­i­tics,” the ac­tor said.

“I was try­ing to get to know him on a dif­fer­ent level be­cause I can read about his pol­i­tics. I wanted to un­der­stand who he was. We got to sit down and have a meal. I think you can tell a lot about a per­son by how they are when you sit and eat with them.” Stone, a tren­chant critic of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, bought the movie rights to The Snow­den Files, a chron­i­cle of the af­fair by Luke Hard­ing of Bri­tain’s Guardian news­pa­per.

He also based his screen­play on po­lit­i­cal thriller The Time of the Oc­to­pus penned by Snow­den’s Rus­sian lawyer, Ana­toly Kucher­ena.

The Moscow-based at­tor­ney told AFP in 2014 he had writ­ten the novel – which Stone likens to Ge­orge Orwell’s 1984 – be­cause he could not re­main in­dif­fer­ent to his client’s eth­i­cal dilemma.

“I have be­come a wit­ness to the moral para­dox, so to speak. I have be­come im­bued with his emo­tional state. He trans­ported me into his world,” said Kucher­ena.

Gor­don-Le­vitt be­lieves com­par­isons of the NSA scan­dal with the to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism Orwell wrote about might be miss­ing a “more com­pli­cated and sub­tle” is­sue thrown up by the Snow­den case.

“To me, the ques­tion is not about whether you need pri­vacy or whether you don’t need pri­vacy,” the 35-yearold Cal­i­for­nian told the Comic-Con panel. “The ques­tion is that we are promised pri­vacy in the con­sti­tu­tion and if the govern­ment is go­ing to change those rules, then they have to be open about that.

“That to me is ac­tu­ally even more im­por­tant than the ques­tions of pri­vacy and mass sur­veil­lance in the Snow­den story – the ques­tion of govern­ment trans­parency.”

Gor­don-Le­vitt says he would wel­come an open, pub­lic de­bate about whether mass sur­veil­lance of the pop­u­la­tion is a good idea, or even an af­fec­tive bul­wark against se­cu­rity threats. “The prob­lem was that de­ci­sion wasn’t made out in the open. The rules were bro­ken in se­cret, and then lied about,” he said. –

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