Judge Jake Ware is the world's most dangerous man.
"We get attacked when people don't like the message. We get attacked not in proportion to whatever we're doing wrong or doing right, but in proportion to the impact that our material is having. They'll attack the messenger and try to discolor the message."—Julian Assange
I felt a small shudder run down my spine when upon inspecting the cover for Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?—Inside The World of WikiLeaks I read that it was directed by A.N. Other, who must surely be Alan Smithee's long lost cousin. When the director/producer of a DVD removes their name from the project or, even worse, suggests that the content of the DVD is the work of someone else, there is some cause for concern. I imagined a collection of clips downloaded from YouTube and pasted together to form this three hour production. And I was not too far off.
Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero? consists of three distinct parts. The first is the meat and potatoes of this DVD. It is an hour long peak into the media whirlwind created in July 2010 when WikiLeaks, with Julian Assange as its public face, published online the Afghan War documents, a collection of some 75,000 documents cataloging 6 years of US military action in war torn Afghanistan, and sometimes referred to as the Afghan War Diary. The film consists of a collection of interviews and press conferences conducted by Assange as well as some behind the scenes footage shot by what looks to be a camera crew organized by WikiLeaks. I cannot confirm the sources of any of these clips, as they are not credited anywhere on this DVD.
This 60 minute segment is the most successful of the three as it manages to engage the viewer and even build a little tension. It is a well edited piece, consisting of segments from various interviews with Assange in which he talks about WikiLeaks' modus operandi, and mixing them with footage from a kinetic camera that follows Assange as he publishes the Afghan War Diary and then deals with the fallout that follows. The resulting footage is engrossing and the tension it develops reminded me of the better journalism and conspiracy thrillers of the '70s.
The major problem with this film is that it starts out of the blue, with no introductions or context to guide the viewer. And then, just as it gains some momentum, it stops, again without any indication that it has done so and that we are moving onto the next part of the DVD. The entire aftermath of the publishing of the Afghan War Diary is completely ignored, as are the consequent allegations brought against Assange, charges he claims are politically motivated and a smokescreen created to ease his extradition to the US and to muddy the message of WikiLeaks.
In fact, if you don't know anything about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks before sitting down to this DVD, you may well end up being quite confused. Prior knowledge of the 2010 publishing of the Afghan War Diary is almost a requirement.
The second and third segments are two one hour long lectures delivered by Assange about the WikiLeaks project and its aims. Both date back to 2008-2009, although I could not confirm exact dates. The second lecture I believe took place at the HITB SecConf, Malaysia, in 2009. The content of both lectures is similar and the delivery rather dry, as you might expect from a straight DV recording of a lecture.
If you think of this package as having a single 60 minute documentary with two 60 minute lectures as extra features, you'll feel a great deal better about settling down to its 3 hours of runtime. The gist of the package is in those opening 60 minutes. The rest is gravy.
The picture quality is less than stellar at its best, and downright ugly at its worst. But then, the point of this DVD is not to show off your latest 50" TV screen to your friends and neighbors, but rather the message that Assange delivers, so I can happily ignore that. The sound quality, likewise, varies and is at times barely audible due to misplaced microphones or ambient noise. This is a bit more problematic as I would expect to be able to hear the content without having to strain. No subtitles are supplied, making this even more of an irritation.
There is no doubt Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are doing some pretty impressive and important work. In an era when free speech and journalism are being subverted and used by various powers to deliver a skewed and biased message, a project like WikiLeaks has the potential to show us what old fashioned investigative journalism ought to be: the uncovering and publishing of information of political, ethical and economic importance to us all. This film highlights this objective and lifts some of the mystique off the publicity shy Assange. However, you could probably source most of this content on YouTube and elsewhere online, so your decision about buying this DVD will probably depend on whether you consider it worth your while to pay someone to collect information on your behalf.
MVD Visual has done the viewer no favors with this release. The menus are too basic and the contents of the DVD are not properly explained. What should have been a part of an Extras section on the DVD plays immediately after the main feature with no credits indicating the end of one part and the beginning of the next. There are no titles, no credits, and no references aside from four URLs on the DVD cover, three of which didn't work when I tried them. This release feels like a rushed attempt at cashing in on the very topical Assange and WikiLeaks and as such smells of cynicism. It's too bad, as WikiLeaks and their work are most deserving of a serious and in-depth feature. Sadly, this is not it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
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