[Note: This is my first weekly column after three years of daily blogging.]
Alex Gibney’s much-anticipated film, We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks, will not hit theaters until the end of May and already it’s a media sensation. Of course, WikiLeaks really was always about the media (for example, I live-blogged revelations and responses for nearly 200 consecutive days here). Gibney summed up the reaction for me earlier this week: “My view, while biased, is: The response from people who’ve seen the film has been mainly positive and from those who haven’t, mainly negative.”
In the latter camp are Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and several key allies, such as writer/filmmaker John Pilger. They claim they’ve seen a (what else?) “leaked” script but Gibney has some doubts about that. Even if they do have it, Gibney points out, they should know that words on a transcript are not a film, which you have to “see” and experience. And he adds: “I don’t consider myself a very good talker or writer but a pretty good filmmaker. So even if you saw a transcript—the point of a film is that people can see it. It’s how the story is presented. Pilger should know that since he’s a filmmaker."
Coverage in the US, after the February screening at Sundance, has been mostly good, he points out. “The people who don’t necessarily have an axe to grind are liking it,” he asserts. And he again declares strong support for Bradley Manning.
Before going further, check out the official trailer:
When WikiLeaks became a household name three years ago—the release of the “Collateral Murder” video from Iraq came on April 5, 2010—and the material it released caused shock waves around the world, numerous film operatives rushed to buy rights to books and articles. One of them was Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal.
Early this year Assange denounced a Hollywood flick when it started shooting—it focuses on the early days of WikiLeaks and his relationship with Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who left the group in a huff). And he blasted Gibney’s upcoming doc—which he refused to cooperate with—right down to its title.
At Sundance, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewed Gibney (who won an Oscar for his Taxi to Dark Side and has directed many other fine docs, from Enron to Mea Maxima Culpa). She also solicited a critical response from Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson. Much of the debate was over how the film treats the Swedish legal case and the seriousness of the threat that Assange could end up extradited to the United States. Gibney told The Daily Beast, “I think a lot of this film is deeply sympathetic to Julian and his initial cause. I just think Julian got corrupted.”