The trailer for the upcoming “The Fifth Estate” film about Wikileaks and its controversial founder, Julian Assange, was released today and was the subject of quite a bit of buzz.

On the heels of May’s theatrical release of the documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks,” Wikileaks isn’t very happy about either film.

The highly anticipated “The Fifth Estate” stars Benedict Cumberbatch (from BBC America’s excellent series “Sherlock” and other geek favorites) as Assange.  I can’t personally offer much about the film itself since it won’t be out until October and I haven’t seen previews.  Softpedia gives a brief overview:

The film presents a dramatized version of the rise and fall of WikiLeaks, starting with how Assange teamed up with Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) to offer a platform for whistleblowers to leak classified information, and ending with their fall from grace.

According to the synopsis, “The Fifth Estate” “reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization.”

Wikileaks has already started lashing out.

This isn’t unlike what happened just after “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” was released.

Before “The Fifth Estate” Came “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks”

“We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” is a film that I did see, and while I am not usually a fan of director Alex Gibney’s politics, I enjoyed that film.  It concerned me at first because it starts out depicting Assange in almost rock star fashion, making little mention of some of Assange’s irresponsible and sometimes dangerous decisions.  But that all changes in the second half of the film.

Mother Jones, by no means anything near a right leaning website, makes note of the change in the film’s pace and of the realities that ultimately plagued Assange (and still do today).

Julian Assange already hates this movie. That six-word review may be all that his die-hard supporters need to know about We Steal Secrets, Alex Gibney’s exhaustive and exhausting new documentary on the rise and fall of WikiLeaks. Apparently without having seeing the film, which hits theaters tomorrow and will be available on demand on June 7, Assange has condemned it as a hatchet job, starting with its name. “An unethical and biased title in the context of pending criminal trials,” WikiLeaks tweeted in January when the movie screened at Sundance. “It is the prosecution’s claim and it is false.”


But in its second hour, We Steal Secrets sinks a knife into its subject as a series of disillusioned allies steps up to testify against him. Former WikiLeaks staffer James Ball diagnoses Assange with a case of “noble cause corruption”—unable to recognize when he does things that he would deplore in others. Manne qualifies his earlier praise, asserting that Assange is “a natural fabulist and storyteller and lives intensely in his imagination.” Nick Davies, a Guardian reporter who worked closely with Assange, recalls his callous attitude toward sources named in American military documents whose lives might be jeopardized if their identities were not redacted: “I raised this with Julian and he said, ‘If an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die.’ He went on to say that they have the status of a collaborator or an informant.”

Ultimately, some of those informant names did get published, prompting media partners of Wikileaks to condemn the organization’s decision.

As the Mother Jones article mentions, “We Steal Secrets” also runs a parallel sub-script about Bradley Manning, the Army private who stands accused of leaking classified material to Wikileaks.  While it seems the director did try to present the Manning backstory in a more neutral light than I’d actually expected, I still think it presents him in too favorable a light, but that’s just my own opinion.  I suppose that depends on where you stand about whether you think what Manning did was right or wrong and to what extent.

In general though, “We Steal Secrets” challenges the viewer to separate the concept of the Wikileaks platform from the personality that controls it, and ultimately to recognize that there can be dangers when personalities (and the opinions they may hold) take over.

Assange responded to “We Steal Secrets” by publishing his own annotated transcript, making point by point rebuttals to the film’s script.  Wikileaks followed with frequent tweets attacking the film, as did supporters of Assange.

With the recent news developments about the NSA scandal and former contractor Edward Snowden, Wikileaks and Assange have re-entered the spotlight to some extent.  While Assange supporters have been hopeful for his resurgence in all this, others, like Edward Snowden’s father, haven’t been as happy to see that association.

For most of the general public, it remains to be seen how “The Fifth Estate” will compare to “We Steal Secrets” in style, in content, and in Assange’s portrayal.  But regardless of where you stand on Wikileaks or Assange, one thing is for certain – with all the anticipation about the upcoming “The Fifth Estate” film, it will be very interesting to see how all sides in this debate respond.  Most especially, Wikileaks and Assange.



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