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Alex Gibney is in a familiar place: the middle of an explosive political issue.
“Sometimes they pick me,” the documentary filmmaker told CQ Roll Call about the selection process for his topics.
The Academy Award-winner has explored some contentious terrain in his movies: torture conducted by U.S. authorities (“Taxi to the Dark Side”), sex in politics (“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”), corrupt business practices (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”), Washington’s lobbying culture (“Casino Jack and the United States of Money”) and the wild practices of bygone journalism (“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson”).
Gibney’s latest film, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” is right up this alley. “It didn’t take long for me to say yes,” he said of being approached by producer Marc Shmuger.
The movie details the story of WikiLeaks’ flashy founder Julian Assange and the imbroglio over leaked classified national security information that has brought the full wrath of the federal government on alleged leaker Bradley Manning.
The release of the film was planned to coincide with Manning’s trial, which began Monday. But what the filmmaker did not count on was that his movie would open with the added backdrop of the Obama administration snooping through the phone records of The Associated Press over national security leaks, as well as the Justice Department’s investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen for reporting on classified material.
“I think it’s helped,” Gibney said. “You see the seeds of what you’re seeing with the AP story and James Rosen” in the movie’s tale of the government’s reaction to the publication of hundreds of thousands of documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as State Department cables, by a collaboration of WikiLeaks, The London Guardian and The New York Times.
Gibney sees the story of the leaks, which ignited a firestorm with their depiction of the realpolitik behind U.S. military and diplomatic strategy, as something that had been coming down the pike for some time.
“The world had gotten radically out of balance,” he said at a recent screening of the film, and leaks were a way of bringing things back into balance.
He believes the issues brought to the fore by such actions have been overshadowed a bit since Assange got into trouble for his sexual misdeeds in Sweden, a bizarre legal situation that has led to the WikiLeaks founder holing up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition.