Category Close-Up: ‘Citizenfour’ Leads the Race for Best Documentary


Edward Snowden in a scene from “Citizenfour.”Credit Radius-TWC, via Associated Press

If any film other than Laura Poitras’s “Citizenfour,” an unsettling look at pervasive electronic snooping by the United States government, wins the Oscar for best feature documentary, it will constitute a huge upset. With the whistleblower Edward Snowden as its main subject, “Citizenfour” doesn’t just recount recent history, it actually puts a camera in the room as Mr. Snowden makes one explosive revelation after another to Ms. Poitras and other journalists.

That’s not to say the remaining nominees don’t have their merits. A pair were directed by two-man teams and are about photographers: “The Salt of the Earth,” by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, is a look at the career of Sebastião Salgado, one of the most celebrated photographers of our time, while “Finding Vivian Maier,” directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, examines the life of a Chicago-based nanny whose work became known only after her death in 2009.

Rounding out the field are two films set in conflict zones. Orlando von Einsiedel’s “Virunga” is, at least on its surface, about efforts to save endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But poachers may be the least of the animals’ problems, as a civil war rages around them and a British oil company with ties to corrupt officials also shows up. And in “Last Days in Vietnam,” Rory Kennedy tells the story of the American withdrawal from Saigon in April 1975, focusing on embassy officials who tried to evacuate as many of their South Vietnamese colleagues as possible.

But “Citizenfour” has various advantages over its competitors. Some are purely cinematic: Ms. Poitras has found an interestingly dramatic way to show email correspondence, and is telling a real-life story that has all the elements of a thriller, elements that she emphasizes in a way that makes Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, seem almost like a Jason Bourne.

Beyond that, however, Ms. Poitras benefits from her choice of subject and the tribulations she faced in making “Citizenfour,” whose title comes from the screen name Mr. Snowden used when he first contacted her. Mr. Snowden’s revelations, which made him a hero to some and a traitor to others, affect every American citizen and millions more abroad, so audiences — and Academy voters — come to the film with some familiarity with its subject.

And Ms. Poitras will no doubt get extra points for sheer gumption. As a result of earlier films on national security issues, one of which earned her an Oscar nomination, she apparently ended up on the Department of Homeland Security’s watch list; at the very least, she was repeatedly detained and interrogated at border crossings, and has had her belongings searched, which led her to move to Europe. So a vote for “Citizenfour” is a way for Academy members to make something of a political statement, without having to put their own reputations on the line.

If there is to be an upset of historic proportions, it will come from one of two quarters. “Virunga,” for all the Conrad-like greed and destruction it shows, is in the end a feel-good story about courageous park rangers devoted to the primates in their care. Both last year and the year before, after procedures were changed to encourage more Academy members to vote in the documentary category, films about overlooked musicians won the Oscar at the expense of more formally innovative films. That gives a sense of just how much the Academy likes stories of people who triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.

And in “The Salt of the Earth,” Mr. Wenders, working in crisp black and white, has devised a very clever way to show Mr. Salgado talking about some of his most famous photographs while at the same time showing those images. That formal innovation will no doubt appeal to Academy members in the technical branches.

But the signs seem to point to “Citizenfour,” which can make its own claim to being that kind of film.

Charlie Walk, Record Executive Accused of Harassment, Is Out at Republic


Charlie Walk, the president of the Republic Group, and the company “have mutually agreed to part ways” following an investigation into allegations of harassment.

Richard Shotwell/Invision, via Richard Shotwell, via Invision, via Associated Press

Two months after the start of a sexual misconduct investigation into the high-ranking music executive Charlie Walk, the president of the Republic Group, the label and Mr. Walk “have mutually agreed to part ways,” the company said last night in a brief statement.

Universal Music Group, which oversees the label, declined to comment further on the outcome of the review, which was conducted by an outside law firm. Mr. Walk, who worked with artists including Lorde, the Weeknd and Ariana Grande, and who also appeared as a judge on Fox’s singing competition show “The Four,” did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accused in January of persistent harassment and inappropriate touching by at least six women who had worked with him, Mr. Walk denied the charges at the time. “I did not do these things and this is not who I am,” he told Rolling Stone last month. “I support the national discussion taking place right now because I believe fully in the importance in treating everyone with respect and dignity at all times.” He retained the lawyer Patricia Glaser, who is also representing Harvey Weinstein, to address the claims.

Mr. Walk had been known as one of music’s most effective promotion executives. He represents perhaps the highest-profile employee in the industry to lose his job amid the #MeToo movement, which has been met by large swaths of silence on the part of both artists and music’s rank-and-file.

The accusations against Mr. Walk first surfaced on a women’s wellness blog in the form of an open letter. Tristan Coopersmith, who worked under Mr. Walk at Columbia Records, a division of Sony, around 2004, wrote that Mr. Walk had frequently made inappropriate remarks to her and attempted to initiate sexual contact, including pushing her onto a bed in his home.

“For a year I shuddered at the idea of being called into your office, where you would stealthily close the door and make lewd comments about my body and share your fantasies of having sex with me,” Ms. Coopersmith wrote. She said she had been paid a settlement and left the entertainment industry.

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