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Throughout the film, Gibney makes no secret of the fact his sympathy lies with Manning, who is portrayed as a confused, cross-dressing loner, mercilessly bullied in the army and so tormented by his decision to provide classified material to WikiLeaks, he confesses all and seals his own fate. 

The director admits Assange is cast in the opposing role. “This is a film about an anti-hero,” he tells us. “[Assange is] someone who becomes the very thing he despises. [WikiLeaks] gets compromised by a guy who, ironically, is good at holding others to account, but he can’t be held to account himself.” 

Assange starts the film in Melbourne as a ponytailed teenage hacker with noble ideals and ends it as an ego that has grown bigger than his cause. But from the very beginning, We Steal Secrets hints at what it concludes is his fatal flaw – it’s in the bravado of his admission early on that he “likes defending victims and crushing bastards”; the early arrogance as, following a pre-Manning leak, he travels to Iceland in order to challenge a claim that he’ll be arrested if he does so. 


Troubled: the film includes footage of Bradley Manning (second from right) who is now on trial for leaks

Gibney tells TNT unequivocally that he believes “it became more important for Julian to be the centre of the [WikiLeaks] story”. He also responds to our question about Assange running for the Australian Senate with the unambiguous assertion that he’d “hate to see Julian Assange with power”.  

We might conclude, then, that the director completed this film with a fully-formed opinion of his leading man in mind, which runs into difficulties when you consider Gibney didn’t actually interview Assange for the doc. Not that he didn’t try to secure a face-to-face. But, the filmmaker claims, after being offered only short interviews or “sound bites”, he decided the film would be no worse off without Assange.

“[It would be] like talking to a politician,” he decides. “It’s ultimately not that satisfying because you’re getting sloganeering. You’re not getting a human being anymore.” 

 

Throughout our interview, Gibney is the consummate professional, engaged and offering insight despite this being one in a long day of press meetings. But put the “errors and sleight of hand” quote to him and he gets visibly ruffled. 

Politely annoyed, of the annotated transcript he insists: “The annotations are mostly wrong. There’s nothing that caused me to think I made any factual errors in the film. The campaign against the film [hasn’t been] a debate, it was more of a disinformation campaign closer to something the CIA would [put together].

The film does criticise Julian Assange for some of his actions ... but it’s never anti-WikiLeaks. From beginning to end, it’s pretty clear about its admiration for the initial ideals of WikiLeaks. [But] the film does have a point of view – it’s my point of view.”

Inevitably, it’s impossible to draw any easy conclusions from Gibney’s movie – in investigating a tangled web, it has also managed to spin one of its own. But that’s what’s so fascinating about this story – even suspended in limbo in a stuffy room in the Ecuadorian embassy, it’s got legs. 

We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks is out through Universal on July 12

Photos: Universal Pictiures International 2013; 2013 Focus Features LLC


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Interview - Alex Gibney: The film director on his new WikiLeaks doco that has outraged Julian Assange
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