New York Film Fest: Top-Secret Edward Snowden Doc Added to Lineup

Edward Snowden H

The New York Film Festival is entering its 52nd year, but never before, in its long and rich history, has it done what it did today: namely, added a film — Laura Poitras' new documentary about Edward Snowden, CITIZENFOUR — to its main slate after the lineup had already been announced.

But Poitras is no ordinary filmmaker (the Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker was one of two journalists who flew to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, known to her then only as "Citizen Four," to see about government documents that he claimed to possess), Snowden is no ordinary subject (the NSA contractor turned document leaker and fugitive remains one of the most controversial figures in the world), and CITIZENFOUR is, according to the fest's organizers, no ordinary film.

New York Film Festival director Kent Jones said in a statement, “Seeing CITIZENFOUR for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget. The film operates on multiple levels at the same time: a character study (of Edward Snowden) … a real-life suspense story … and a chilling exposé. When the lights came up, everyone in the room was alternately stunned, excited, and deeply troubled. A brave documentary, but also a powerful work from a master storyteller.”

The existence of the doc, which will screen as a "Special Presentation" at the fest, was kept under tight wraps until today. Described as "a stunning thriller with Edward Snowden that unfolds in real time," it will ultimately be distributed theatrically by Radius, in partnership with HBO Documentary Films and Participant Media.

Moments after the announcement, Radius co-chief Tom Quinn told The Hollywood Reporter that he and his team are incredibly proud to be associated with CITIZENFOUR. "It's unlike anything I've ever worked on before," he said, noting that "everyone knew" that Poitras' new doc would deal with the intelligence community, but nobody knew that this would be the specific angle. He emphasized that Radius will be the film's primary theatrical distributor, but that they will work closely with Participant Media, as they have in the past, as well as HBO Documentary Films, with whom his company has not partnered before.

Quinn also revealed that Oscar and Emmy winner Steven Soderbergh is an executive producer of the film; that Poitras will have some sort of presence at the world premiere screening; and that the film is not yet locked-and-loaded, hence the listing of its runtime, in the New York Film Festival's release, as "TBD." Asked about whether or not Radius plans to mount an Oscar campaign for this doc, as it does for its other docs this season — among them Fed Up, Keep on Keepin' On and Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon — he referred people to Jones' quote in the statement (see above).

Poitras, a controversial figure herself for her role in helping Snowden, has a long history with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which puts on the New York Film Festival. Both of the prior installments of her "9/11 trilogy" of docs — My Country, My Country (2006), which eventually earned Oscar and Emmy noms, and The Oath (2010) — which CITIZENFOUR completes, premiered at FSLC's New Directors/New Films series. She was also the 2011 recipient of FSLC's Martin E. Segal Award, which is given annually to two rising young artists in recognition of exceptional accomplishments. Her NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post.  Along with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, she is co-founder of the digital magazine The Intercept. She currently lives in Berlin.

CITIZENFOUR will screen on Friday, Oct. 10, at 6pm at Alice Tully Hall (tickets are now on sale) and Poitras will participate in a conversation about it, as part of the HBO Directors Dialogues series, on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 4 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theatre (free tickets will be distributed an hour before the talk).

Sept. 16, 10:04 p.m. Updated with comments from Radius co-chief Tom Quinn.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg