Sydney Film Festival preview: Risk

Risk review Laura Poitras Julian Assange preview sydney film festival

Academy Award-winning documentarian Laura Poitras provides an intimate, unobtrusive and largely unobstructed portrait of complex WikiLeaks figure Julian Assange.

Name: Risk

Director: Laura Poitras

SFF Screenings:
Saturday, June 10, 11.30am at Event Cinemas, George Street
Thursday, June 15, 6.30pm at Dendy Newtown *SOLD OUT*

Synopsis: Filmed over six years, Laura Poitras’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning Citizenfour, is an arresting portrait of controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Should I see it? Yes, this documentary is highly recommended. Unlike Alex Gibney’s 2013 film We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, which was made without Assange’s blessing and amassed from an array of footage, Poitras was allowed to film the inner workings of WikiLeaks’ sanctum, from when the controversial Aussie was under house arrest in an opulent London mansion to his eventual alleged collusion with Russia to derail Hilary Clinton’s 2016 election campaign. In contrast, Gibney took a macro, information-heavy view of the WikiLeaks story, including the emergence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and went back to Assange’s days as a young Melbourne-based hacker sending worms into NASA’s computer system. Risk is very much focused on Assange in the present moments we see on camera.

Risk is an intimate portrait, similar in approach to Poitras’ inside view of Edward Snowden in Citizenfour. That Oscar-winning doco was a detour during the making of Risk, due to Snowden’s contacting of Poitras before he went public as a whistleblower.

True to Poitras’ style, in Risk the director keeps voiceover to a bare minimum, instead choosing a fly on the wall approach. It’s observational filmmaking, following Assange from his failed appeal against an extradition request by Sweden to face sexual assault charges, to his covert escape to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Poitras has re-edited the documentary since its premiere in Cannes last year, to include details about WikiLeaks’ involvement in the 2016 US election. What we see is Shakespearian subject matter.

It’s no surprise that Assange is not a fan of the film that Poitras has made. In both Gibney’s rather overt, anti-Assange flick and Risk‘s comparatively impartial depiction, it’s hard not to see this once celebrated champion of free speech and governmental transparency as a manipulative, malignant narcissist. Both movies hint that perhaps the impassioned assumption of Assange’s innocence in the face of the Swedish sexual assault charges was misplaced.

Is he an ideologue, humanitarian anarchist and revolutionary? Or someone that’s gotten away with rape? Watch and decide.

Oh, and keep your eye out for a completely bizarre scene featuring Lady Gaga.



By Nick Milligan

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