The Fifth Estate and Mediastan

I paid for and sat through The Fifth Estate, me and nine other people at the ArcLight multiplex on Sunset Blvd, a 2:20pm show on the first day of release.  And my take away: Don’t use a pseudonym based on your family cat or get a giant WikiLeaks tattoo on your back, dumbass.  I also walked out thinking

Julian Assange, he’s a pretty cool guy and doesn’t afraid anything.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange as quirky and twitchy and uncomfortable in his own skin, a very different Assange than I’ve seen speaking before crowds, in interviews, in the Wikileaks-produced Mediastan (available free Saturday night, 7pm-6am Pacific  Eastern Time per wikileaks update,  for audiences in the US, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Estonia) where he has warmth, humor, and passion. Cumberbatch also doesn’t capture Assange’s hot geek sexiness, and I think somewhere along the way we’re supposed to see Assange as megalomaniacal, or at least as an ego-driven monster. Maybe I have dated too many real-life narcissists, megalomaniacs and ego-driven nutjobs to be affected by a cinematic version. I was on Assange’s side the whole time, even though he was pretty much a cipher. Daniel Berg was a wuss, and the relationship between the two isn’t that compelling (plus it is distorted by filmmakers for the narrative interest; Wikileaks has several pages of inaccuracies). Berg comes off as a short-sighted unlikable lick-spittle who sabotaged WikiLeaks for reasons that are posed as high-minded in The Fifth Estate, but were actually more self-serving in real life.

Props to the filmmakers for showing the Collateral Murder video and reminding people of that and of what Private Manning risked in order to release the video and subsequent documents. The film also lets the audience know of all WikiLeaks’ successes including publishing Scientology documents, information related to banking scandals, Kenya, Colombia, Gitmo, the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War, and much more, while shaking a finger about the the non-redaction of names (which was pretty much non-starter, since there has been no proof of blowback from the cables’ publication). Overall, The Fifth Estate is not a particularly great movie, there are some laughs and a little bit of tension and drama, but it drags in places, and is full of historical inaccuracies. And seriously, when the biggest revelation about a man whose organization changed not only the news media, but also the world, is that he dyes hair, that’s pretty tragic.

Meanwhile Assange co-produced Mediastan which presents an inside look of how WikiLeaks reporters, armed with their cache of  cables set off across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and into US-occupied Afghanistan in 2010 to give copies of related cables to news organizations in each country.  It’s great filmmaking, and reveals a great deal about power, media and the powerlessness of the media, both in regimes under dictatorships and in West.  In the ‘Stans, publishers and reporters fear retaliation, even if names are redacted, and those fears carry through to the Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York Times as editors tip their hands about power and access.  The US State Department funds some foreign media; other places it is controlled by the government–the irony of the name the newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan is painful–and no one really wants to risk their their access or their lives.

MEDIASTAN will be available free to watch online Saturday night, 7pm-6am Pacific   Eastern Time for audiences in the US, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Estonia. The film will also be available worldwide to buy or rent online at all other times. Watch it at http://wikileaks.org/Mediastan. I paid to rent it earlier this week and look forward to watching it again.

MEDIASTAN was directed by Johannes Wahlström and produced by Julian Assange with Rebecca O’Brien and Lauren Dark at Sixteen Films. It is being distributed by Journeyman Pictures.

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