When it was announced that legendary director Oliver Stone would be making his first trip to Comic-Con this year to host a panel for his latest movie, Snowden, I was a bit confused. The “based on true events” story of how NSA contractor Edward Snowden became a whistleblower and fugitive from the US government for leaking controversial info highly invasive global surveillance programs, is not exactly the type of film you would associate with the usual comic-book loving crowd of SDCC.
Shortly into the panel though, prompted by a question from an audience member, those seemingly idiosyncratic worlds came smashing together when Stone declared current video-game craze Pokemon Go “a new level of invasion,” that could lead to totalitarianism. He went to deride the popular app’s tracking functionalities saying “They are data mining every person in this room. It’s what they call surveillance capitalism.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Welcome to San Diego Comic-Con where a cute lightning tossing yellow creature can become a tool of The Man. And that was only one part of the intriguing panel that saw Stone joined by stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays Snowden), Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto. Over the course of an hour, both the director and actors engaged in a lively discussion around the cost of privacy, civil liberties and all kinds of politics. And through it all it was clear that all parties involved in this movie felt pretty passionate about it’s subject matter, with nearly everybody referring at one point or another to Snowden himself as a hero.
That is of course not a view point that everybody around the world agrees with, and Stone was very aware of this just from his efforts to make this movie. The director revealed that he struggled for a long time to get the production off the ground, saying that Hollywood studios’ “self censorship and corporate studio boards blocked funding abilities.” When pressed on whether he thought the NSA might even have been involved in pressuring studios to not make this movie, Stone indicated that thanks to the secrecy of the system, there would be no way to know.
“I don’t acknowledge or feel suspicion that they did… I feel the 1984 Big Brother vibe in general in this society… I don’t know and neither do you.”
Stone eventually secured funding for the film in France, saying of the country that “They have a respect for privacy there.”
Of course Stone himself was a bit hesitant to take on what he terms as “the ultimate conspiracy story,” but warmed to the prospect over time after meeting Snowden himself and getting to know him better.
“I didn’t want to do this at the beginning. You get beat up, current [event movies] get you killed. Protagonists often turn on you, especially in rock movies. [But] he’s going through a painful, personal story. He was only 29 when he did this enormous thing. And in our two years together, he’s never wilted in the face of opposition.”
Woodley, who plays Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, also spoke about getting to know the real man, who “doesn’t have any friends. He’s not close to his sister, mother or father. He lives in the computer world. It’s one of the main reasons he did this radical action.”
“I felt the opportunity to know him as a human being was crucial. It’s easy to forget that people who make these decisions are still human with an emotional life.”
Gordon-Levitt was also intrigued in trying to portray this more human side of Snowden and not just the face we see on the newspaper frontpage.
“I was trying to get to know him on a different level. He’s like an old-fashioned gentleman, really warm and an optimist about the future of technology. I’ve been dying to ask him if he’s cool with [what I’ve done] with my voice.”
If you’re wondering what Gordon-Levitt is referring to about his voice, then you need to have a look at – and, well, listen to – this brand new trailer for the film that was also revealed at the panel.
Damn, that looks great.
Snowden also stars Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Olyphant, and is scheduled for international release on September 12. There’s no local release date yet.
Last Updated: January 4, 2017