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Feb 22, 11:59 PM EST

'Citizenfour' wins Oscar for best documentary


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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Revealing state secrets have turned into Oscar acclaim for the makers of the Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour."

Laura Poitras' film documents her initial meeting in Hong Kong with Snowden, as well as journalist Glenn Greenwald. It's an uncommonly intimate view of what became a historic and much debated act: Snowden leaking National Security Agency documents that revealed the previously undisclosed collection of Americans' phone and email records.

"The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don't only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control," Poitras said after accepting the best documentary Academy Award.

"Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistleblowers, and I share this with Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who are exposing truth," Poitras said to rousing applause.

Greenwald stood at Poitras' side as she spoke.

It is Poitras' first Oscar win. She was previously nominated for her film, "My Country, My Country"

Snowden was charged under the federal Espionage Act and is currently living in asylum in Russia. Because of the sensitive nature of the footage, Poitras made "Citizenfour" under intense secrecy and edited it in Germany.

The film shows glimpses of the former NSA contractor's paranoia. When room service calls his room, Snowden unplugs his phone and he ducks under a blanket to enter passwords on his laptop.

Yet Snowden says in the film, and has repeated his sentiment since, that he was willing to be the target of criticism and derision and branded a traitor.

"If you're not willing to be called some bad names to serve your country, you really don't care that much about your country," Snowden said at a forum earlier this month. "So bring the names on."

Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris obliged. As Poitras and her collaborators walked offstage Sunday night, Harris said, "The subject of `CitizenFour,' Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason."

Poitras and her collaborators kept their focus on issues - film editor Mathilde Bonnefoy refused to answer a question about they planned to celebrate the Oscar win, saying she wanted to keep the focus on serious topics.

"I think one of the things that one can do is focus on the person Snowden," Bonnefoy said. "And one of the things we've tried to do with our film was to show him, to give him a real voice. And I think when you see him, you see that his motives were pure and that he was really authentic."

Snowden said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union that he was grateful for Poitras' work and hopes it inspires other.

"When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant," Snowden wrote. "I'm grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world."

"Citizenfour" beat out four other documentary films: "Virunga," "Last Days of Vietnam," "The Salt of the Earth" and "Finding Vivian Maier."

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AP Film Writer Jake Coyle and TV Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

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