Mar 12 • 20M

Triple Threat: Julian Assange

Three films about Julian Assange


Appears in this episode

Yasha Levine
Evgenia Kovda
A podcast by Evgenia Kovda and Yasha Levine.
Episode details
John Shipton, Julian Assange’s long lost dad.

We recently went to the local theater to watch Ithaca, a new documentary about Julian Assange that focuses on his dad’s efforts to get him out of London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he’s been held in solitary since 2019 while fighting extradition to United States on espionage charges — initially under Trump but now under Biden. Oh how things change!

To add some context to the film, we watched and discuss two other Julian Assange docs: Laura Poitras’ Risk and Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets. They amount to a decade’s worth of documentaries about Wikileaks — chronicling the increasing repression and marginalization and hopelessness of Julian and his project to change the world by freeing information.

—Yasha and Evgenia

Want to know more? Check out previous episodes of The Russians.

A couple of notes on our discussion.

The three films are all very different. Of the three, Risk is probably the most interesting to watch but also the most deceptive and least informative. It gives viewers a false sense of intimacy and reality, while on the backend being very manipulative.

As we discus in the ep, most viewers probably won’t know that after Risk premiered at Cannes — and after Laura Poitras appeared and hugged on the red carpet with Wikileaks sidekick Jacob Appelbaum — Poitras re-edited the film, changing the narrative to show Julian Assange and Jacob Appelbaum not as heroes but as predators. Yasha first found out about this sneaky re-edit from Julian back in 2017 when Julian was still holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Julian felt betrayed and explained the re-editing of the film as Laura’s attempt to protect her reputation from a couple of things that happened not long after the film had its premier in France. One was that Jacob Appelbaum — the Tor Project frontman with whom Laura was intimately involved with — was accused of being a sexual predator and was then cancelled by the privacy community. The second was that Julian became fully toxic in liberal circles during the 2016 presidential election: he was seen as a Russian asset who backed Trump over Hillary and released all those damaging emails.

So as Julian explained: because of all of this Poitras had to betray her two friends — one of whom was in captivity, the other who used to be her lover — to make sure she came out of these scandals clean, even though she had no problem with any of this until it became public and a problem for her career. It was a tangled, gross situation.

“I think it’s mostly defensive. She’s the daughter of a billionaire, and has an apartment in Tribecca, Manhattan,” Julian wrote to Yasha back then. “But she’s pretty simple. She aspires to maximise her status among the Tribecca/Greenwich Village, etc. set.”

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