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 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.

13 Responses to "The Fifth Estate and Mediastan"
Lisa Derrick | Friday October 18, 2013 11:03 pm 1

Variety reports that The Fifth Estate is garnering $1355 per screen, and may only make $2.4 million this weekend, way below what Variety projected on Thursday, a (not great) $4 million.

DWBartoo | Saturday October 19, 2013 08:52 am 2

Ah, most interesting. So then, in your opinion, Disney/Dreamworks did not make a really great movie and it was full of inaccuracies? And, to think, as you reported, that the real Assange got “all sandy-pants”, before he could even have known what would be (or not be) in this movie … doubtless, he was very much concerned that the truth about his hair would be revealed?

Thank you, Lisa, for paying for, and watching, what many of the rest of us have been skeptical about from the beginning. Did you happen see and note those “points” of contention that you will now be well-armed to defend or challenge … in terms of those who will believe the movie to be gospel truth?

I greatly appreciate your inclusion of the schedule of the availability of MEDIASTAN, this evening for, as you suggested that I do, during one of our earlier chats, I intend, with considerable interest, to watch it at ten Eastern time, tonight.

Thank you for this dual review.


onitgoes | Saturday October 19, 2013 09:01 am 3

Thanks for the detailed review, Lisa. I am still thinking about going to see it just to be informed & be able to discuss it with others.

Lisa Derrick | Saturday October 19, 2013 09:45 am 4

The movie does do a good service by showing the Collateral Murder video repeatedly and making sure we know how important WikiLeaks was and continues to be. As such it serves Wikileaks. JA did get upset without seeing it–a director’s handling of the written word, plus music, editing etc can alter the script. It’s a not a smear film, it doesn’t paint JA as Eeeeevil, and it’s not a whitewash. But it’s nowhere near as bad a view of Assange as I would have expected from reading Assange’s condemnations. It’s pretty tame. The worst thing that can be said is that he dyes his hair!? (which I think is slanderous, I sat on the edge of my seat wiaiting for that reveal, and it was delivered so heavy-handedly (there was a PILE of lead balloon exposition, and some weird urge for D D-B to be re-parented by Assange; that Freudian element could have been explored more fully, snort) Captain Philips suffers from inaccuracy, as have dozens of other “based on true story” movies (or even movies based on fictional works/the Bible; stuff gets changed, big whoop). What does come through is WikiLeaks’ successes and how it changed news reporting and the world. And ideally the nine other people in the theater will go further in looking at Wikileaks, or based on the guffaws of the two girls in my row, they it already and were there just to see if the anti-propaganda was on point (it was overkill). I suspect the movie is gonna die on the vine pretty quickly because it’s not a big action movie or that compelling a drama; it serves too many masters.

BTW, The cult mentioned in The Fifth Estate (to which Assange’s mother DID NOT BELONG, according to Assange) The Family, is not be confused with The Family/Children of God, a far better known cult.

pastfedup | Saturday October 19, 2013 09:47 am 5

Thank you Lisa for posting about Mediastan. I will try to remember to watch it tonight at 8pm Mountain time. Any interest I would have in viewing Fifth Estate would be purely to note the inaccuracies and misrepresentations/distortions of the facts.

Lisa Derrick | Saturday October 19, 2013 09:47 am 6
In response to onitgoes @ 3

Good. I suspect some people will buy a ticket for another movie at the megaplex and sneak into The Fifth Estate so as not to give that movie any money. I didn’t do that, but went to matinee as a cost-cutting measure.

Lisa Derrick | Saturday October 19, 2013 09:56 am 7
In response to pastfedup @ 5

Mediastan is wonderful.

PillBilly | Saturday October 19, 2013 11:52 am 8

From La Figa/Lisa Derrick (less than a week ago)”Julian Assange is stirring a bubbling cauldron of interest that could result in The Fifth Estate‘s coffers running over, with the fair-haired boy of cyberspece delivering the Midas touch for the box office gold.”

Despite the promotional publicity La Figa has provided prior to its release, it now appears that The Fifth Estate is doing poorly (if not DOA), having taken in less than $600K while debuting on over 1,700 screens domestically. From the Hollywood Reporter, “Prospects are grim for Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, which bombed on Friday with $587,000 for an expected $1.8 million weekend.” Thanks for the folowup story post-viewing.

Lisa Derrick | Saturday October 19, 2013 01:13 pm 9

I said “could” not “will.” And if Assange hadn’t been discussing it, The Fifth Estate would have even fewer ticket sales yesterday. I am glad I saw it and I’m glad that the Collateral Murder video was shown repeatedly and discussed, along with other things Wikileaks has exposed.

Maybe the majority of people don’t care about WikiLeaks. Maybe it’s not a subject that grips most of the movie going public, which is a pity. I hope that Mediastan gets watched.

And FYI “promotional publicity”? Um lol. I would have been remiss not to have written about it.

DWBartoo | Saturday October 19, 2013 07:48 pm 10

Thank you for the link to MEDIASTAN, Lisa, a very interesting and informative experience. As you say, great film making. I hope that many people will watch and learn. “Journalism” certainly means different things to different people, especially in the context of what each society considers acceptable … the young journalist in Afghanistan, contrasted to the older man who now finds nature much more “interesting” … compared to the “views” in DC and in New York … the thoughts of Manning, and the several “discussions” with Assange … from the frank words of his colleagues … to the “careful” perspectives of the chap from the Guardian.


reader | Sunday October 20, 2013 08:42 am 11

Came back to say thanks so much for the link to the free window for Meidastan. I watched it this morning. This is the kind of documentary that turned me on to documentaries 30 years ago. I used to say “I watch a lot of tv, but it’s mostly documentaries.” Not so much in recent years: the quality even on PBS is down.

Mediastan is just great on so many levels. Visual, theme, narrative, journey (travel and narrative), message, personalities, observations (implicit mostly – lovely!) … much more compelling than the idea of *just* another fictionalized and romanticized (see Captain whatever with Hanks) biopic like The Fifth Estate, even with playing the collateral damage footage.

I would not have seen Mediastan otherwise and I can recommend it highly. Just don’t have the $$ to support anything on a flyer these days. But I might pay to see it again now.

I think it will succeed.

reader | Sunday October 20, 2013 08:43 am 12

DWBartoo @ 10: Oh, yes, all that and more! :-))

PillBilly | Monday October 21, 2013 12:50 am 13

From La Figa/Lisa Derrick (10 days ago)”Intertubes pin-up boy Julian Assange is all sandy-pants about the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, and has been for sometime…”.

I suspect he’s not so “sandy-pants” now, after “The Fifth Estate”‘s disastrous opening weekend, and the worldwide welcoming of WikiLeaks’ own timely film release “Mediastan”. From Sunday’s (Oct 20), “Does Fifth Estate Bombing Hurt Benedict Cumberbatch as a Leading Man?”

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post