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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks details the creation of Julian Assange's controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history. Hailed by some as a free-speech hero and derided by others as a traitor and terrorist, the enigmatic Assange's rise and fall are paralleled with that of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the brilliant, troubled young soldier who downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents from classified U.S. military and diplomatic servers, revealing the behind-the-scenes workings of the government's international diplomacy and military strategy.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As Oscar Wilde so astutely wrote for Algernon to say in The Importance of Being Ernest, the truth is rarely pure and never simple and Alex Gibney's fabulous doco about Assange, WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning is the latest testament to that truism. For most people aware of the generalities, this film will draw together the disparate pieces of information and assumption about its subject matter (as mashed up by media reports) in a coherent, mostly chronological manner, while revealing its inscrutability.

Gibney doesn't set out with an agenda either to pillory or to sanctify Assange; he seeks out the various profiles that Assange has shown his followers, fans, enemies and interlocutors over the years. And they are not all in synch. These variations are the discoveries of the film, as is the detail about Bradley Manning, the soldier tortured (both by his own demons and by the military) and distressed by what he started. He cuts a tragic little figure in this global drama, and if we feel sympathy for anyone in the story, it's Bradley.

Likewise Adrian Lamo, the hacker in whom Bradley confided, and who ultimately felt the need to betray him. But we meet many, many people whose paths intersected with both Bradley and Julian Assange, and as the film ended I realised that just about everyone eventually turned against Assange or had negative views of him - except the loyal placard waving fans in the streets who had never met him or dealt with him. (Ironically enough, many of them wearing masks.) Perhaps they are latching on to a figure who in a world emptied of real heroes looks like one - at least in passing.

Former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheitt-Berg has this to say: "WikiLeaks has become what it detests .... We must get away from [seeing] Julian as some new guru, some new hero, some new pop star. Everyone is celebrating Julian as some kind of whistleblower. He's not. Bradley Manning might have been a whistleblower ..." And Australian Federal Police officer Ken Day reckons Assange "does not like being judged," and sees his conviction on hacking charges as unjust. "I'm a martyr," is how he sees it according to Day.

But he has also become a rock star to some, and fame has the power to corrupt as much as power does.

There is something unique in the way Gibney uses the short form of written communication (text) we are now so familiar with. "I discovered something very interesting," he says in his director's statement. "I could see and show a character purely through the letters he typed into a computer. That's how we communicate now - we seem to prefer it. But what does that mean."

It is a remarkable piece of editing, too, and this enables us to understand how a man and an organisation with the lofty ideals of transparency for all now abhor this in their own affairs. That's because there is a complex humanity under the spotlight here, and we are confounded by the fact that there is no simple black and white answer to the question of right and wrong in this story. (Of course there are elements that are clearly wrong, from the top of Government to the bottom of the hacking world ...) This story tests our moral and ethical boundaries, and reminds us that the world is a far more complicated place than we have time to absorb on a daily basis.

One of the best examples of the film's clarity of thought is the way it explores how the sex allegations (better clarified than in the media) against Assange fit into the overall story, allowing the various attitudes to that be aired, including a revealing interview with one of the women.

Assange, who nicknamed himself Splendide Mendax or Noble Liar, at the start of his hacking career, seems to have convinced at least some of his fellow leakers that at least in that he was being truthful. And ironic.

Review by Louise Keller:
The paradox and irony of Julian Assange's self-given name Mendax (Latin: noble liar) does not escape us in director Alex Gibney's riveting documentary that takes us deep into the bowels of the controversies and evolution of WikiLeaks. It is superb, unbiased filmmaking that allows us to make up our own minds about Assange and whether his idealist vision as an innovator has become confused by self-obsessed paranoia, conflicted by his own beliefs and imaginary world. It is as though a worm hole opens up, sucking us into the world of WikiLeaks, where surprisingly, it is Bradley Manning, the star whistle-blower, whose own story almost overshadows that of Assange.

Meticulously researched with extensive archival footage, Gibney traces the evolution of WikiLeaks in which Assange is mooted as a John Lennon-like revolutionary or the new Mick Jagger, as his celebrity elevates him into a dizzying sphere of paranoia, and where Assange appears to be eminently comfortable. Effective use of onscreen text that taps onto the screen letter by letter, as though each word comes hot off the press becomes part of the film's production design, while wonderful graphic imagery of the infinite labyrinth of digital technology is intertwined between interviews and footage.

Throughout, there's a mystique about Assange with his striking white hair and ever-present composure (or hubris) as WikiLeaks becomes established and the controversy begins as classified documents are published without redaction and sensitive videos released. The Swedish sex-charges are put into context with an interview with one of the girls involved in the rape case. Witch hunt or simply a personal issue that is lassoed into the fray for the sake of perceptions?

There are many haunting images, such as Assange, dressed in a suit and talking on a mobile phone, whilst jumping on a trampoline in the Norfolk mansion that becomes his refuge. Manning's vulnerable and poignant features are unforgettable as text messages recount his need to confide his actions to someone, albeit a stranger like Adrian Lamo. Lamo's own on-camera admissions are surprising and moving, as is Manning's yearning for a gender change.

This is a film filled with sensationalism - the beauty is, none of it is fabricated. Truth, lies and secrets make for juicy bed partners and scintillating viewing in what is an intelligent and thought-provoking documentary.

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(US, 2013)

CAST: Documentary featuring Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo, Daniel Domscheitt-Berg,

PRODUCER: Alexis Bloom, March Shmuger

DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney


EDITOR: Andy Grieve

MUSIC: Will Bates

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes



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