“Risk” (2017) is the latest historical and biographical film about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Director Laura Poitras provides amazing “live” coverage of events in Assange’s life starting in 2011, when he sits in a home in Norfolk, England with journalist Sarah Harrison and talks to a man about leaked State Department cables. Assange says “It is not my problem, but I don’t want it to become your problem.”
One of the most revealing monologues comes at almost the end, when Assange is asked whether he engaged or indulged in his style of journalism to gain “power”. He says that his garden is the whole world, and the only way for him to be effective as a person is to act globally. That is how I feel about my own writing.
Assange also pontificates, a bit earlier, on taking risks, especially when you need to be able to take someone else’s bullets and survive them.
Early on, the film presents another major associate, Jacob Appelbaum, rather handsome (despite the gratuitous upper arm tattoo), and explains his work with the Tor Project. The film makes the interesting point, however indirectly, that refugees and asylum seekers (in the U.S. or any western country) would need access to TOR to communicate safely with relatives back home, an issue that potential hosts would need to heed. There are scenes where Appelbaum appears in Cairo, and later in Tunis, training Arab spring activists to use TOR, as authoritarian regimes quickly turn against political change, especially in the Muslim world.
The film concurrently covers the release of Bradley Manning’s leak “Collateral Murder” in Iraq, and covers his court martial, and gender change to Chelsea Manning, and mentions her release from Leavenworth by President Obama just before the end of the film. As a result particularly of this set of leaks, the US and UK governments start to close in on Assange. There are accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which may very well be a set-up. A riveting sequence in the midpoint of the film shows Assange putting on macho-man gay leather drag (including contacts), and driving his motorcycle (left side in the UK) in bike lanes to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he get asylum in 2012. The rest of the shots of him in the film must be taken in the embassy, even Lady Gaga’s visit.
Poitras herself goes global, interrupting her narrative to show Hong Kong and just a little bit of Edward Snowden (from “Citizenfour”). Sarah accompanies Snowden to Moscow, where he seeks and is granted asylum from Putin.
The film then covers the leaks during the 2016 US presidential elections and how that probably helped Donald Trump (“I love WikiLeaks”) win the electoral vote.
The US Department of Justice announces it wants to consider prosecuting Assange for espionage and getting extradition from Ecuador. Under the Trump administration (and in a scene showing FBI offices in New York City), Wikileaks is now painted as a foreign intelligence service (maybe especially for Russia and China) and less a legitimate journalistic group to “keep them honest”.
Laura Poitras says she herself faces constant legal restraints and disruptions in travel from the TSA, as have Appelbaum and perhaps Harrison. Appelbaum faced sexual misconduct allegations which might well have been trumped up (pun).
Atlantic review is here.
Wikipedia on Sarah Harrison.
My own legacy review of “Collateral Murder” (2010).
|Director, writer:||Laura Poitras|
|When and how viewed:||Landmark West End Cinema, Washington DC, 2017/5/8; theater was showing only this film at frequent intervals|
|Companies:||Madman, Showtime, First Look|
(Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)