Assange, a Year Later
Dir. Laura Poitras, 2017, 87 minutes (Neon)
now in theaters, on Showtime this summer.
Julian Assange of Wikileaks is back in the news as the US attorney general says he’ll arrest and charge the publisher leaker. The filmmaker Laura Poitras is also back, with Risk, a revision of her film of the same name on Assange that premiered a year ago.
Risk played at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The inside look at Julian Assange suggested a closeness if not a collaboration between a filmmaker and a heroic subject who understood how the internet and he could change politics.
But the new Risk, which Poitras was editing until this week, shows a more complicated Assange, who remains accused of rape and who released emails from Hilary Clinton and her staff which hurt her chances to be president. In voice-overs that she calls production journals, Poitras indicates where and sometimes why she’s made some of her changes.
We see Assange and a tight circle of advisers, first in a borrowed manor house, and then in the besieged Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he’s had asylum for the last five years. At one point, he’s trying to call Hillary Clinton at the US State Department to alert her to new leaks. At another, Lady Gaga interviews him, mano a mano, celebrity to celebrity, with a point and shoot camera. She tells him to wear a dirty t-shirt like a rebel, and asks what his favorite food is.
Assange knows the power of the camera, but as a reality check with Lady Gaga, he stresses, “I’m not a normal person.”
We get that, but how could he be normal, given the efforts so many countries have made to seize him? Bear in mind that Poitras, an American citizen, has been harassed when she’s tried to enter the US.
The sexual allegations are still out there. So are abuse complaints against Jacob Appelbaum, the Assange protégé and journalist. Both Appelbaum and Assange deny the charges, and we see Assange in the film calling it all a feminist plot. His lawyer, a woman, tells him not to talk about that in public.
All that dirt has been out there in some form, but the bigger story in Risk is that more players than Assange are leaking information, with plenty of them distorting it. While we’re never entirely sure about Assange’s motives, especially with the Hillary leaks, don’t be surprised if the motives of Russian leakers, with their American allies like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort in the Trump camp, are far worse.
Was Stone working with Assange, or vice-versa? Here, for some equal time, is a recent interview with Assange on Democracy Now.
You come out of this film thinking that you can’t trust Julian Assange to be much more than an equal opportunity leaker – or is he holding back damaging information as an insurance policy. But how could Assange could trust law enforcement anywhere, if one month Donald Trump praises him and now the country’s top Trump-appointed lawyer wants to lock him up.
The world has changed in radical ways since a year ago. The flawed Julian Assange and the persistent Laura Poitras have many more reasons to be wary than they did when the film premiered at Cannes last year.
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