- Nikki Baughan
- 26 June 2017
Julian Assange is the subject of a compelling, unavoidably personal documentary from Laura Poitras
'I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I was wrong. They're becoming the story.' So says filmmaker Laura Poitras in voiceover, midway through her eye-opening documentary about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. By focusing more on the man, and less on his deeds, a fascinating study of the blurred lines between activism and ego emerges.
Through its sharing of classified US intelligence documents, WikiLeaks has shaped discussions of security and democracy; most recently, because of its involvement in the leaking of Hillary Clinton's emails, supposedly from Russian sources. And, since 2010, Poitras has been in the room with Assange at key moments: from his call to the US State Department warning of an upcoming data-dump, to his donning of a disguise to hotfoot it to the Ecuadorian Embassy (where he has been ensconced for nearly five years, avoiding extradition to face questioning relating to sexual assault allegations in Sweden, an investigation that's since been dropped).
This is a story still in progress, and Poitras has re-shaped the film since it made its 2016 Cannes debut in a cut that was notably more pro-Assange (the voiceover, in which Poitras reads from her production notes, is a new addition). The filmmaker has, in interviews, alluded to the fact that her rethink was motivated by Assange's aggressive response to that cut and, indeed, the man shown on screen is a troubling individual. It's all on show: the narcissistic tendencies, revealed in the intimately framed interview that bookends the film; the bullheaded way he treats his team; the disregard with which he discusses women, particularly those who have accused him of assault.
As such, the risk of the title is one not just shouldered by Assange, but also by Poitras. Involving herself in this community of high-level hacking – which she also did for Citizenfour, her Oscar-winning profile of Edward Snowden, seen briefly here – puts her on the watchlists of several government agencies. By associating with a team dogged by claims of abuse and misuse of power – she admits to a brief affair with abrasive WikiLeaks senior journalist Jacob Appelbaum – Poitras has also made herself an unavoidable part of the story. And it makes for compelling viewing.
Selected release from Fri 30 Jun.