Four amateur filmmakers in Hong Kong have beaten Hollywood to the draw by producing the first film on Edward Snowden, a five-minute thriller depicting the nail-biting intrigue surrounding the intelligence leaker when he was hiding in the city.
Shot in less than a week on a shoestring budget, the film imagines the drama which must have unfolded in Hong Kong leading up to Snowden’s bombshell leaks on vast US surveillance programs.
“To be the first one to really do anything about it…it was quite invigorating,” cinematographer and editor Edwin Lee said of the YouTube film that used local actors and shaky camera work reminiscent of the Bourne spy thriller series.
Snowden, 30, abandoned his high-paying job as an IT technician contracted to the National Security Agency and went to Hong Kong on May 20.
He then began issuing a series of leaks on the NSA’s global gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, including in China and Hong Kong, before his dramatic escape to Moscow where he remains holed up in an airport transit area.
“This is a spy movie that’s developing,” Lee said of his film which gets its title from the code name Snowden gave himself — “Verax”.
The expats from Ireland, Australia, the US and Canada, of which Lee was the only filmmaker by trade, made the film “to catch onto the interest on Snowden and the attention on Hong Kong,” Lee said.
Production for the film took place at breakneck pace as drama, diplomatic intrigue and tensions surrounding Snowden unfolded in the southern Chinese city.
“It was a lot of adrenaline…it was all very guerilla filmmaking style,” Lee said.
Though production was rushed, the film, which has gained more than 89,000 views on YouTube since it was released on Tuesday, stayed true to the actual locations in Hong Kong where Snowden was reportedly seen.