We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks – Alex Gibney (2013)
There is a scene in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs when Dark Helmet and Col. Sanders decide to find Lonestar by watching a copy of Spaceballs: The Movie even though they’re in the middle of making it. It’s one of the best movie bits Brooks ever came up with, and it seems to have a modern parallel coming true. Were documentaries always this quick to be captured, processed and released? The story that director Alex Gibney has set his sights on here — the website WikiLeaks and the cult of personality that sprung up around its’ leader, Julian Assange — is still actively unfolding. Even though Gibney’s film takes the longview, tracing Assange back to his hacker youth in 1980s Melbourne, at the end of the film we’re looking at now now: Assange, frail and emotionally (and ethically) compromised, as a refugee in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he remains to this day, still fighting his extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations which he fears will lead to extradition to the United States.
WikiLeaks started from a noble idea, that a well informed society is better than nanny state, but because of the pressure applied by the governments who were targets in the leaks and the personal failings of its founder, it eventually strayed off course. WikiLeaks became synonymous with Assange himself, with, it’s alleged, much of the site’s funding going to Assange’s legal defence, leaving Assange with few allies, and Bradley Manning — the Private who actually leaked the trove of documents and videos — mostly abandoned to a cruel military justice system.
The only problem is that if you’ve been paying attention even a little bit, you know all of this stuff already. That’s a problem of time and distance, which Gibney has not allowed enough of. The story is still fresh in our minds and so covered by so many journalists around the world that We Steal Secrets breaks no real news in its two plus hour running time. This is, at this time, essentially advanced reblogging for profit. Gibney’s interest in the subject may be sincere, but it’s not discovery of a subject.