We Steal Secrets Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia,

We Steal Secrets

Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks promised an in-depth look into the creation and inner workings of one of the most famous media organisations in the world. Gibney, of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) fame, marketed the documentary as providing insight into an organisation that is arguably one of the most (in)famous both in terms of publication output and the almost rockstar like following of it’s Editor-in-Chief, Julian Assange.

Disappointingly, it didn’t.

We Steal Secrets chooses instead to focus increasingly on the cult of personality surrounding Assange and seemingly glosses over the importance of the collateral damage video first released by Wikileaks and the cables published after.

The aim, presumably, of the documentary was to shed light on the creation, maintenance and ongoing struggles of an organisation publishing material that placed states and governments in a precarious position publically – the publishing of the secrets that existed behind the closed doors of decision makers, military and intelligence services. Secrets that we now know included details of corruption in Kenya, paramilitary training by the US to assist the overthrow of South American governments, Guantanamo Bay standard operating procedures and video and transcripts of US forces killing unarmed civilians and journalists in Iraq.

There is an uncomfortable feeling that no one actually wants to talk about the atrocities that Wikileaks was able to catapult into the public domain…

Instead, Gibney seemingly becomes transfixed by character references of Assange. The opportunity to analyse Wikileaks’ usefulness as an organisation – one that was able to catapult serious violations of international humanitarian law into the public sphere – is lost amongst the endless parades of cameos offering insight into Assange’s personality. Yes, there is discussion of the killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq, and excerpts are shown in the film, but this is countenanced and almost trivialised by Gibney’s infatuation with the cult of Assange. The majority of the documentary appears to be about the relationship between Gibney and Assange, and Assange and every other media organisation in the world.

Little discussion is given as to the worth, in terms of human rights and international humanitarian law, of the footage and documents released by Wikileaks as evidence of war crimes and Gibney in this sense, appears to follow the majority of mainstream media outlets in ignoring the obvious and wanting to shift attention to the personality behind Wikileaks. There is an uncomfortable feeling that no one actually wants to talk about the atrocities that Wikileaks was able to catapult into the public domain and the usefulness of such an organisation in the face of increased governmental and state secrecy.

The treatment of Bradley Manning in the film is also curious, in that it bizarrely shifts its focus on him from whistleblower to a person troubled by gender issues, spending a substantial amount of time building him up as an unstable, isolated individual whose conflicting traits are somehow responsible for his actions against the state. Again, the audience needs to keep in mind that these ‘actions’ are in reality proof of conduct by a state that is against international law, but appear lost amongst the chatter of Manning’s personality.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is no in-depth expose on the Wikileaks organisation; it focuses too heavily on the cult of the personalities of both Assange and Manning to the detriment of actually providing insight into the usefulness and actions of the organisation. Gibney would have done well to focus less on personality and more on substance – the publication of footage that explicitly illustrates war crimes by a state is a topic that deserves more analysis than it received in the documentary.


No Fire Zone Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

No Fire Zone

By Maya Borom.

NoFireZone_promo_stillNot since John Pilger’s 1979 Year Zero documentary on the Khmer Rouge slaughter of civilians in Cambodia has there been a documentary as important in bearing witness and raising awareness of the grave contraventions of international law and human rights as Callum Macrae’s No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.

Macrae’s documentary pieces together a clear picture of the tragic events in 2008 that lead to the final government offensive against Tamil stronghold regions of Kilinochchi and Vanni in Northern Sri Lanka, where thousands of people were killed. Utilising raw mobile footage obtained from the waring Sri Lankan Government and Tamil Tiger forces, as well as footage taken by UN workers and civilians caught in the middle of protection zones, the film provides a no-holds barred view into the systematic eradication of a minority group within Sri Lanka by the majority government.

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected …

The title of the documentary refers to these no fire zones of protection set up by the Sri Lankan Government, and whose coordinates were given to the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross as a designated shelling free / refugee area. In theory, those within the zones borders would be safe and protected from any fighting and collateral damage that may occur as the fighting raged around them. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected and shielding their loved ones from the savages of warfare.

The explicit footage in No Fire Zone bears witness to the complete destruction of entire families and communities. No one is spared, not even society’s most vulnerable: children, the elderly and the infirm. Interspersed with interviews with UN officials who were in the field at the time, as well as government propaganda as to what was occurring, the documentary also illustrates the inadequacy of the international community’s response to the massacres, led in part by the unwillingness of the United Nations to intervene. It’s important to note that key government officials were, and continue to function, in office within the United Nations, or in diplomatic posts – a parallel that can once again be drawn with Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka is an unforgettable journey of torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and genocide. It documents war crimes. There is no doubt that the images and scenes played out in the film are haunting, disturbing, distressing and unforgettable and linger long after the final credits.

This is a documentary that leaves an indelible impression and adds to the call to bring those responsible to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.