An Excellent and Balanced Attempt at telling an Important Story
I had the pleasure of seeing the North American premiere of Wikileaks: Secrets and Lies on the first night of the SXSW Film Festival. The film is a compelling attempt to tell the extraordinarily complex story of Wikileaks and begin to explore the numerous complicated issues that it raises. Director Patrick Forbes manages to interview all of the principle characters in the drama with the exception of the imprisoned and therefore inaccessible Pvt. Bradley Manning. He tells the story roughly in chronological order so as to provide the viewer with a means of trying to understand a story that was difficult to understand as it unfolded in real time. This story is so complicated that there are hundred different directions in which the story could have been taken. Forbes remains relatively focused on Wikileaks and its efforts to work with the mainstream media to publish their trove of leaked American government documents. The film allows the many of the characters to tell their stories without a lot of outside commentary. This material is still quite recent and controversial and it would have been easy to have fallen into the trap of being pro- or anti-Wikileaks. Forbes doesn't really do that. He allows Wikileaks' enigmatic and mysterious founder Julian Assange and his various critics to tell their story in their own words without being too judgmental. The question of whether Wikileaks' efforts are those of whistle blowers or threats to national security or perhaps both remains to be settled and will undoubtedly require more time and distance to fully assess. The issues of how new media and old media interact in an increasingly digitized media environment are also just beginning to emerge and remain largely undefined. This film raises serious and unanswerable questions about how Wikileaks has begun a process of changing journalism and politics by opening up institutions, particularly, but not solely governmental ones, to greater scrutiny. It suggests that while that process is a healthy one that it is also one that imposes its own standards of responsibility and accountability on both government and journalists. I hope this film is widely viewed, because it is asking important questions that will need to be more fully discussed in coming years.
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