Film director Laura Poitras admits that her latest documentary, Risk, was six years in the making. It was supposed to be the last in a post 9/11 trilogy, but she was sidetracked by the chance to produce and direct Citizenfour, the story of Edward Snowden and a film that ultimately won her an Oscar.
Once the Snowden film was behind her, Poitras returned all of her attention to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who is now living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a fugitive from two countries who want him extradited. The result, her film Risk, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival Day 7 this week.
Risk review: Laura Poitras skirts safely around Julian Assange in gripping documentary https://t.co/GzTTbf5JAY— Guardian culture (@guardianculture) May 19, 2016
Not An Easy Subject
Julian Assange is not an easy person to get to know. He is not interested in talking about his personal life, only politics. At one point in the film, a video interview with Lady Gaga is shown, in which she tries to get him to talk about his feelings.
He calmly states, “I’m not a normal person… Why does it matter how I feel?”
Given Julian Assange’s aversion to talking about himself, the film is more a compilation of “pieces” of this man rather than a flow of a man’s story, as was the case in Citizenfour, in which a long interview with Edward Snowden in his Hong Kong hotel room revealed much about him personally.
Risk is thus more a story of the pressures put upon Assange and his staff, as well as Poitras, by the U.S. and Swedish governments. Sweden is trying to force extradition on rape charges, which the WikiLeaks team says are “trumped up” merely to get him out of the embassy and onto soil where he can be extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to espionage.
2010 – The Year It All Started
In 2010, as the film shows, Julian Assange made a call to the U.S. State Department and asked to speak with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Of course, he did not get through to Clinton but informed the individual on the other end of the line that he would be releasing the encryption key to un-redacted diplomatic communications between the U.S. and foreign governments. He followed through on that threat, providing some extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing moments for the U.S. government.
After that, Assange lived in the UK for two years, until, in 2012, the Swedish government charged him with sexual abuse and requested extradition from the UK. At that point, Assange requested and was given asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has resided for the past four years.
Poitras The Subject Of A “Watch”
Poitras’s previous films, documentaries on the Iraq War (My Country, My Country), Guantanamo (The Oath), and Edward Snowden (Citizenfour), have certainly caught the attention of the U.S. government. Poitras has revealed, in fact, as reported by the Wrap, that she is the subject of a continuing Homeland Security investigation and “watch” as a person who is “anti-American.”
Following the debut of her film, Poitras was joined by WikiLeaks staffers Sarah Harrison and Jacob Applebaum for an interview by Indiewire. All three called for his release and cessation of the harassment they have received. As Applebaum stated,
“The fact is, Julian is a political prisoner who is being demonized in the press and who is about to spend a very serious number of thousands of days imprisoned by the UK, who does not listen the United Nations’ rulings… In the U.S., most of the journalists are propagandists and stenographers for the state.”
Applebaum was referring to a UN ruling stating that the detainment of Julian Assange is unlawful. So far, no government is listening.
[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]