We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Julian Assange is the subject of Alex Gibney's new documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks"

Julian Assange is the subject of Alex Gibney’s new documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

I could not wait to see Alex Gibney’s new documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”  I first became aware of this film when, a while back, one of my students e-mailed  me a link to the “We Steal Secrets” trailer.  I was hooked.  Now, having finally seen the movie, I am happy to report that this is not a case of the trailer looking great (as they often do) and the movie not being up to snuff.  “We Steal Secrets” was everything I hoped it would be and more.

In one of the classes that I teach, at Queens College, “Mass Communication and Popular Culture,” we discuss  Julian Assange and his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.  Is Assange merely exercising his First Amendment right or has he gone too far by releasing top secret information?  In class we compare Assange’s actions and cause to those of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

Up until now the only documentary on Assange that I have been able to find has been “Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?” available on line on Netflix.  The documentary is good, but a bit dry.  So how great it is that Gibney has pulled out all the stops with a well-produced, visually arresting and incredibly comprehensive film about Assange.

As with his previous documentaries which include “Catching Hell” (2011), a favorite of mine, and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (2010) Gibney delves into his subject matter in incredible detail, somehow managing to interview every conceivable player in the drama.  I usually sit through his documentaries wondering, “How did he find this person and how did he get them to talk so frankly about what happened, and on camera too?”  “We Steal Secrets” is no exception, even though, ironically, the one person that Gibney did not get to interview was Assange himself.   This helps Assange come off as something of an enigma.  His absence does not hurt the documentary.  In fact Gibney has plenty of interview footage of Assange, from other sources, as well as interviews that Gibney has done with Assange’s associates, U.S. government officials and other players in this amazing story.  Through it all we see a portrait of Assange as a strong advocate for transparency in government who then refuses to apply that same level of transparency to his own life and organization.

Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and having received political asylum from Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, is portrayed as a rock star hacker/whistleblower who believes in transparency in government even if this involves putting top secret information on the internet. 

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged rapes.  Yes, Gibney actually gets one of the alleged rape victims to speak on camera.  Assange feels that being extradited to Sweden means he would then be extradited to America, where he is wanted for leaking diplomatic cables and top secret information including the infamous “Collateral Damage” video which shows a U.S. drone firing on, and killing, alleged terrorists, in Baghdad, some of whom turn out to be Reuters reporters.  The drone also fired on a van with two children.

Assange claims that he is merely a publisher.   The point is made that “The New York Times” has published some of Assange’s information and yet the U.S. government has not gone after “The New York Times.”

The other character, who actually may be even more of an advocate for transparency than Assange is Private Bradley Manning.   Manning leaked a lot of top secret information, including the “Collateral Damage” video to WikiLeaks.  In fact, many of my students have told me that they think Manning is closer to Daniel Ellsberg than to Assange in terms of his actions.  Although Gibney could not interview Manning, who is in custody, he does interview computer hacker Adrian Lamo who turned in Manning following on line chats with him in which Manning said he had leaked classified information.

“We Still Secrets” is a compelling thriller-like documentary with characters that could not be made up involved in a drama that is continually unfolding.  This is virtuoso documentary filmmaking not to be missed.

“We Still Secrets” is playing locally at Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston Street.




About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 1, 2013, in Documentary, New and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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