Citizenfour (2014, directed by Laura Poitras) won this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It’s not my favourite from the five short-listed films (there were Finding Vivian Maier and Salt of the Earth on the list too, by the way), but I accepted it would win from the very beginning, like some sort of imminent and inevitable fact. None of the other films could surpass the weight of Citizenfour. And yet.
Awarding Citizenfour an Oscar is (more) about doing the right thing. Someone risks everything and changed their entire life to tell the world something extremely important that’s about everyone: whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not, you’re being watched. All the time. Everything you do online, and you do a lot, is somewhere there, kept for later. And in case necessary – whatever that can mean – it can be brought to light. Many things you might wish to forget, many things that have only to do with you, many mistakes you might regret and want to change. Everything kept.
The film is a simple and direct one person against powerful governments account, a risky endeavour backed by a moral call: Edward Snowden worked for the CIA, realized the dimension of today’s surveillance and decided to tell. The film bears the weight of the risk to do that, there’s a certain big brother air as well, and also the feel of someone’s amazing courage. It’s not a great cinematic experience, it’s actually a piece of journalistic documentation, a story that just had to be told and it was told with great risk. So yes, this is why it won, because the subject itself is so relevant that it doesn’t matter that much how it’s told. Citizenfour is as close a documentary can get to bearing witness to a raw piece of reality, and to revealing a story we didn’t know but now that we do it should change the world.
So this Oscar was imminent and inevitable. But if it was me to pick… if Citizenfour wasn’t there…I would have picked Virunga (2014, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel) for sure. Not because it looks “heavy and good” as one Academy member said and voted for it without watching it. But because the films tells with heart and arguments a story at the very point where human society and nature meet, that very point that reminds us that we actually belong to nature, but we forgot, and now we believe we don’t, we believe we’re develop and it’s up to us to make nature ours. And eventually destroy it. This attitude is definitory for our society. And it’s important to see that.
Virunga is this amazing park in Eastern Congo, home to more than half of the 700 mountain gorillas left in the world. It is now threatened because of SOCO, this Godless, careless and destructive oil company that wants to drill there and destroy this unique place. The films tells about this, and makes a super comprehensive portrayal of the complex socio-political conflict in Congo and how this company taps into this conflict to get into the park. It also makes a touching portrayal of the people defending the park, their courage and their relationship with the gorillas.
More than just tacking a reality and telling a complex story in a heartfelt way, the film is all together an amazing cinematic experience, getting you through a carousel of emotions, making you witness of beauty and pain and reminding you who you really are and also what role you actually play in this circle you’re witnessing.
So yes, Virunga is my winner.