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“One of the things that attracted me to this story was that there were heroes at the heart of it,” says Alex Gibney, Oscar-winning director of the controversial new doco, We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks.

 “I came into this story looking for a hero.” Then Gibney pauses and gives the slightest of shrugs. “But, inevitably, things change.”

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have made no secret of just how pissed off they are about this documentary – they’re so pissed off, they’ve gone so far as to issue a line-by-line rebuttal of the entire script ( Assange himself has slammed it as “anti-WikiLeaks” and the organisation is accusing Gibney of “errors and sleight of hand”.

It’s fair to say the film isn’t overly kind to Assange. It accuses him of muddying WikiLeaks’ cause – fighting for total ‘truth’ and transparency – by refusing to face up to the sexual assault charges brought against him by two women in Sweden (though it does not conclude that he is either guilty or not guilty of the alleged crimes). 

The face of WikiLeaks: Aussie Assange is criticised in the doc

Crucially, the film suggests he was wrong to make the charges a part of the WikiLeaks story, considering the inference from Assange is that these assault claims were invented in order to extradite him to Sweden, so he can in turn be extradited to the US and charged with espionage for leaking diplomatic cables. 

“There is a lie at the heart of what Julian did,” Gibney tells TNT as we settle into a sofa at the Soho Hotel. “The original sin of WikiLeaks, the moment in the garden, is when he makes this Swedish matter a part of WikiLeaks.” The film even raises the question of whether funds donated to WikiLeaks have gone to the transparency cause or the Australian’s defence case. Yup, Assange was never going to love that.

However, if you wanted to try and understand this century’s most vital and complex political scandal, you’d need a man like Gibney at the helm. Esquire magazine called him “the most important documentarian of our time” and he’s got ample grounding in the subject matter, having already delved into high-profile sex scandal with 2010’s Oscar-nominated Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer, and war crimes in Academy Award winner Taxi To The Dark Side, about an innocent Afghani tortured and killed at an American airbase. 

Gibney’s new film is undoubtedly compelling, skillfully explaining how the WikiLeaks saga unfolded – from the process of releasing classified US government information over the internet, to Assange holing up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where he’s been since June 2012, to avoid arrest – and exploring precisely why it had such dire consequences.

And bearing in mind all the press coverage lavished upon WikiLeaks and Assange, it’s refreshing to see some focus on Bradley Manning, the troubled individual who actually leaked the information – Assange was more the publisher – and now faces life imprisonment for ‘espionage’ and ‘aiding the enemy’.

But where Gibney has really gone to war with WikiLeaks’ silver-haired chieftan is over the transparency of his personal life. Perhaps even more important than the political in We Steal Secrets is the personal, with the motivations of central characters Manning and Assange preoccupying the director’s final cut.


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