When Julian Assange discovered there was a film being produced that traces the beginnings of Wikileaks, he wasn’t too thrilled. In fact, he called it “A massive propaganda attack”
The film’s director Bill Condon based the film on Inside Wikileaks a book written by Assange’s former colleague, Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Wikileaks a book by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. These resources were integral to Condon’s wish to create a balanced portrait and “… More than anything—especially in these kind of polarized times—to take on something really polarizing and to try to pose the questions without providing the answers…”
The Fifth Estate is the latest in a series of films centered around Wikileaks. And, much like Underground, a film that portrayed Julian Assange’s teenage years as the hacker named Mendex, it will premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Slated as the opening gala, The Fifth Estate reaffirms a pivotal moment when there was a shift in our increasingly digitally integrated world. Retelling the story of the website that did much to empower individuals to engage in anonymous descent with the goal to hold those accountable for crimes against humanity. Wikileaks is one information portal that helped to show that the web is a democracy.
Curiously, with the intent of Wikileaks so benevolent, it’s important to note that Assange is no saint. The past year he’s camped out at an Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes. An extradition, that Assange believes is a “holding case”, in order to allow the United States to prepare its prosecution over Wikileaks activities. If sent to Sweden there’s a possibility he could be extradited to the States where he would be detained in a high-security prison and face the death penalty under the Espionage Act of 1917.
Condon reflects that, “There’s some deep personal reasons that drove Assange to do this extraordinary thing and so only he could’ve done it. Only he could’ve been a part of—this amazing revolution and sort of lead it, in a way. But those very things are also the things that ultimately caused him to make some mistakes.”
Watching The Fifth Estate’s trailer it’s an emotionally rousing take on Assange as a seeker of justice. Beginning with the “Collateral Damage” video that showed unarmed journalists being gunned down, to the rise of Assange alongside Wikileaks as a curiously heroic figure. The film will focus on Assange during the pivotal moments where he partnered with The Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel to release 92,000 documents related to the the Afghanistan War from 2004-2009 and 400,000 documents relating to the Iraq War making it the largest leak of classified information in history.
So Assange might be non-plussed about a Disney backed film about him and Wikileaks, but opening TIFF with The Fifth Estate legitimizes digital activism as a growing part of our culture.
Check out the trailer below:
If you miss the Toronto International Film Festival’s opening gala screening of The Fifth Estate, release date is set for October 18, 2013.