director Alex Gibney
Director Alex Gibney is one of the most prolific and successful documentary film makers out today, with movies about Enron (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)), U.S. policy on torture (Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)), even Eliot Spitzer (Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010)). His topics are often “ripped from the headlines”, if you will, but the real, big stories of our times, the big crises, the big stories, probably, possibly the ones that will resonate for future generations as emblematic of this era.
Wikileaks, certainly, is up there. And the story of Julian Assange, the primary man behind the internet reveal of so many secret documents, his place in this story is key. And Gibney is not alone. Also in 2013, a non-documentary biography of Assange was also released, The Fifth Estate. Is the story ready to be told? I guess they think so.
Gibney does seek a truth in his film about the story: that the “real hero” of the tale is Chelsea “Bradley” Manning, the private first class who actually dug up all the files from the U.S. government computers to which he had rather significant access, that and the personal identity crisis that he was undergoing at the time, his gender identity disorder, that he has since been undergoing change.
Clocking in at over 2 hours, this is a longer film that Gibney’s others, ranging from some of Assange’s first strikes on the internet and some of his personal history. All this to the launch of Wikileaks and the information that was released in coordination with journalists at The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The New York Times, and more.
Personally, I think it’s a tale that is still unfolding. Manning is still in prison, though I don’t think his trial has still yet been held. Assange is still living in isolation at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, hasn’t gone to stand for his alleged crimes in Sweden (which the film does give reasonable time and attention to, even interviewing one of the alleged victims). And the whole of the impact of the Wikileaks revelations, the significance of that specific information, even the true fallout of the digital age of ready information, of surveillance, secrecy, technology, and its ever-available existence.
I wonder how complete Gibney feels this film, this story is. It breaks into areas of real interest for me, of the state of journalism, the reality of technology, the desire to critically, objectively know what is going on. I just feel this story has further chapters, maybe significant, maybe not. Time is the thing that helps hone focus to history, perspective to understanding. And this one…is still happening.