We Steal Secrets - Trailer
A documentary that details the creation of Julian Assange's controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in US history.PT2M26S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2hvev 620 349 April 15, 2013
Julian Assange appears to have been busy at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
According to filmmaker Alex Gibney, a savage critique of his documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks that has been posted on the organisation's website has been written by its Australian founder.
WikiLeaks's extensive notes on a transcript of the film cites factual errors, misrepresentations and biased editing, covering everything from the title (''an irresponsible libel'') to the damaging claim that Assange would be interviewed for the film only if he was paid (''Julian Assange did not say the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million'').
"Flawed character": Julian Assange is the subject of Alex Gibney's new documentary. Photo: AP
The latest film from Gibney, the Oscar-winning director of such hard-hitting documentaries as Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, looks at the history of WikiLeaks and the roles of Assange and US Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who is about to go on trial for leaking secret war logs and diplomatic cables to the website.
Gibney says WikiLeaks proved to be a more complicated subject than he expected. ''I thought it was a pretty simple story when I started - about a leaking machine and about a kind of David-and-Goliath story, which Julian was David against the United States' Goliath,'' he says. ''It turned out to be not so much about a machine at all, much more about human relationships and human frailty. And Julian turned out to be a rather flawed character who ended up becoming … all too like the organisations he sought to expose.''
With Assange supporter Jemima Khan as an executive producer, Gibney expected to be able to interview the WikiLeaks founder. But when negotiations fell through, he relied in a large part on filming by Australian Dateline video journalist Mark Davis.
Shedding light on an enigma: Alex Gibney. Photo: Sundance Institute
''By the time I [started the film], Julian was surrounded by a lot of lawyers and agents and so forth. He had become big business,'' Gibney says. ''I had a number of meetings with him … I really did hope to persuade him to be interviewed but I think [what] Julian feels about an interview is that it's not a kind of mutual transaction, which is really surprising for somebody who runs a transparency organisation.
''His view was that he is the puppet master and that his interviewer should protect him and convey the message that he wants to convey.
Despite WikiLeaks' denial about the $1 million market rate, Gibney says Assange did ask him for money to be interviewed. ''I wasn't entirely surprised because he'd asked me for money before and I told him I wasn't going to pay him,'' he says. ''But in a way, more disturbing was what he asked for next. In lieu of money, he said, 'How about you spy on other interview subjects for my benefit?'
WikiLeaks claims the film uses stock footage in misleading ways, trivialises serious issues and portrays Manning's acts as failure of character rather than a triumph of conscience. ''The portrayal of Manning's alleged relationship to WikiLeaks and to Assange is grossly irresponsible and suggests - erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary - that Assange may be guilty of conspiring with Bradley Manning to commit espionage or similar offences,'' the WikiLeaks website says.
On the critique of his film, Gibney has no doubt Assange is the author. But rather than seeing the film in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he has been living for a year since the British Supreme Court ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexually assaulting two women, Gibney believes the WikiLeaks founder was responding to a transcript based on an audio recording made during a screening that misses much of what's in the film. ''An audio recording wouldn't have picked up the [internet] chats from Bradley Manning [to hacker Adrian Lamo who reported him to US authorities] because they're printed onscreen,'' Gibney says. ''They're not spoken.''
Gibney says the WikiLeaks' claims about the film are ridiculous. ''There are no factual errors and there is nothing misleading in the film,'' he says. ''It's a series of Julian's opinions. First of all, it's a little galling [for] me as a filmmaker to have people tweeting around the world about a transcript, which is, after all, inaccurate and a very incomplete transcript.''
So what does it say about Assange if he has critiqued the film this way?
''He's a little bit to me like the Wizard of Oz, that moment where Toto pulls the curtain away and you see a man desperately manoeuvring the levers trying to burnish his image.
''It's [fitting] in a metaphorical sense that Julian, in his response, leaves out all the words of Bradley Manning. It's as though he wants to stay at centre stage. He keeps thinking about his image, while Bradley Manning is about to go on trial. That's where the attention should go.''
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Critical buzz Fascinating investigation into WikiLeaks
Stars Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo
Director Alex Gibney
Release Screening at the Sydney Film Festival (sff.org.au) on June 12 and 15 then opening on July 4.