“The film is about secrets. Who keeps them, who tries to expose them,” said Alex Gibney ahead of the UK premiere of the hotly anticipated We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.
“Also, unexpected secrets. How individuals have a powerful impact on broader social events, sometimes in very unexpected ways. So it’s a bit of a thriller in that sense, and has some unexpected outcomes.”
Focussing on the rise and fall of the infamous whistle-blowing website and operation, Gibney investigates the story behind its leader, Julian Assange’s, various scandals and the man who made the world’s biggest information leak possible. His name was Bradley Manning.
“Well, as has been widely known, I didn’t get an interview with Julian; though the search for that or the attempt to get that is part of the story. I spent about a year on and off trying to. I met him a number of times, including one epic six-hour meeting where he tried to get intel for me and I tried to see if he would do an interview.
“I never succeeded, but I think that in the film there’s a lot of material, particularly material that’s very interesting that can’t ever be gotten again.” This material, shot by Mark Davis before Assange was in the public eye, will be new for most viewers. “That period is very interesting, and that will never come again. We’ll never see that person again. But that’s in the film in a way that I think is quite powerful.”
“I never had a chance to get [Bradley Manning], but what we had were these chats [he had online]. Over the course of making the film more of these chats came out and so we were able to create a character for Bradley Manning out of his own words. In a way it’s kind of like an interview, but it’s even better than an interview, it’s his own personal diary… So there’s a lot about this film that’s kind of a spy story.”
In true spy-thriller style, not everyone is who they seem, and informants and old friends come out of the woodwork to give their take on Assange and Manning. Gibney also adeptly explores the nature of whistle-blowing and the courage necessary for the act. With current events involving Ed Snowden taking place now, I asked Gibney if he felt that these topics will continue to renew themselves.
“I do,” he replied. ”I think this is a topic that’s going to get deeper and deeper and more and more people are going to think about it. But I think one of the interesting things about We Steal Secrets is that it’s not a kind of current events primer, it goes deeper than that. It really gets at the heart of really key characters and also how people change and are changed by circumstances around them. That, I think, is terribly important.“
Whether you have followed the Wikileaks story from day one or missed out on key events along the way, an interst in current events, the internet, and secret-keeping or -stealing makes this film one to watch.
“We wanted this film to be approachable by anyone,” said Gibney. “That’s why it’s set or it’s cast kind of in the style of a thriller, because it is a kind of international Bourne Identity in a way – with some unexpected twists.”
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is relesed in UK cinemas this Friday, 12 July.