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Comic-Con 2016: Oliver Stone and "Snowden"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wore an American flag t-shirt to the Hall H presentation on “Snowden,” the new Oliver Stone film about the man who exposed the secrets of the NSA and fled to Russia. “Oliver Stone is one of the most patriotic of all filmmakers,” he said. “For me, patriotism means that if you love something, you raise your hand and try to fix it.”

Stone, making his first-ever Comic-Con appearance, is a master of political paranoia, exploring and exposing corruption in films like “Nixon,” “Wall Street” and “JFK.” The panel opened with tips on how to put a bandage over your laptop cameras to prevent spies from using them, and continued with a compilation of clips showing Stone’s influence, including a hilarious sequence of characters reciting Al Pacino’s famous “Scarface” line: “Say hello to my little friend.”

Stone said that even with the cooperation of Edward Snowden, developing the film was "a nightmare of complication … He’s still a mystery. He’s a man who’s covert.” Stone had to resort to “the realm of dramatic visualization,” like the Snowden-inspired novel the former NSA contractor’s attorney wrote, and which, with other sources as well as interviews with Snowden and his girlfriend, played by Shailene Woodley in the film. “It’s a larger than life story of what's happening now.”

Stone spoke about the “self-censorship” of corporations who were afraid to be associated with the story of a man considered by many to be a traitor. “We were turned down by every major studio. It blocks so much of the truth getting out.” Finally, with financial support from sources in France and Germany as well as theater-group funded Open Road, they were able to make the film, which was shot internationally. “The NSA did not interfere but in this world how do you know who is listening?" There was “a big brother vibe.” But they had “subsidies and a friendly climate in Germany.

Zachary Quinto, who plays journalist Glen Greenwald in the film, said that the Snowden story is important because it resists “the Insidious atrophy of the mind.” Gordon-Levitt agreed: "The issue is not do you have privacy. It is we were promised privacy. In a democracy we are supposed to have the conversation.” He has donated his fee for the film to the ACLU, in part for a series his company HitRECord is creating with the civil rights advocacy group.

All three of the actors met their real-life counterparts. Gordon-Levitt described Snowden as “very polite, an old-fashioned Southern gentleman, and an optimist about how tech can improve democracy and human race.” When asked whether Snowden was a patriot, Stone and the actors all raised their hands. A traitor? No hands. A hero? All hands went up, but Stone hesitated. He made it clear that the movie shows all sides. But the government official played by Rhys Ifans is named for a character in George Orwell’s 1984. Stone warned us of corporate data mining, which he called “surveillance capitalism.” And throughout Comic-Con, “Snowden” representatives were handing out bandages for all of us to put over our laptop cameras, just in case.

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at

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