Entertainment

Edward Snowden biopic revealed at Toronto film festival

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TORONTO: Patriot, dissident or traitor? A new film by anti-establishment director Oliver Stone starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asks audiences to weigh in.

The espionage thriller biopic about the largest data leak in US history, which ignited a firestorm over mass surveillance, premiered late Friday at the Toronto film festival.

“Hopefully (the film) will work towards a number of efforts to try and rehabilitate him,” WikiLeaks representative Sarah Harrison told AFP ahead of the film’s red carpet in Toronto.

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“What will help Snowden’s situation and potential other whistleblowers as well is getting more public awareness of the retaliation that’s used against people that do these sorts of things,” explained Harrison, who is director of the Courage Foundation, which supports Snowden and other whistleblowers.

She opined that whistleblower protections in the United States are too weak, but that “public awareness is improving and that’s always a first step.”

“These sorts of actions should be protected in some way or at least be allowed a defense.”

Snowden’s residency permit in Russia, where he was granted political asylum after fleeing the United States, runs out next year. “Then the question comes up again of where he can be safe. Obviously he’d love to go back home,” Harrison said.

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Alternatively, “he’d really like asylum in a number of other countries, some European countries. Maybe the situation will have changed in some of those but sadly so far he’s always been denied,” she said.

His supporters are trying to sort it out. But, Harrison said, “In this current environment in which it’s kind of an empire that the US is running, his chances are minimal.”

US authorities charged Snowden with espionage and theft of state secrets after he released thousands of classified National Security Agency 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, where he hid among Sri Lankan refugees in cramped tenements, and later was given political asylum in Russia after the US revoked his passport.  He now leads a reclusive life there.

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In an encrypted text this week to Canada’s daily National Post, which revealed how he had evaded US authorities while on the run, Snowden described himself as “the world’s most wanted dissident.”

He also expressed concern for people affected by his actions, saying “I was worried about accidentally dragging people down with me.”

The documents he leaked revealed the extent of the NSA’s global surveillance programs and started a debate about privacy and the role of state security agencies which still rages today.

The film is based on “The Snowden Files,” a chronicle of the affair by Luke Harding of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, and on the political thriller “The Time of the Octopus” penned by Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena.

It follows Snowden from the army to the CIA and to his post as an NSA analyst, delving deeper with each film frame into the big reveal: the world is teeming with electronic devices, each of them capable of monitoring our activities.

It also stars Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson (also appearing at the festival in “Denial”) and Nicolas Cage.

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