In an unusual conversation with the normally entertainment-minded HFPA, the fugitive WikiLeaks founder talks a little about movies, a lot about the “security complex” he fights against
The new movie “The Fifth Estate” is doomed to fail because its anti-WikiLeaks stance doesn’t give moviegoers the kind of underdog story they want, said exiled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a roundtable interview conducted via Skype on Saturday with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
In the 100-minute conversation, conducted via Skype from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has been living under diplomatic asylum for nearly 500 days, Assange slammed both “The Fifth Estate,” and Alex Gibney’s documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” and said he United States has become a place where people seek political asylum not to, but from.”
And when asked if he liked any movies he’s seen recently, he mentioned Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 drama “There Will Be Blood.” “That’s a good film,” he said.
The unusual conversation with members of the HFPA, which typically meets with stars looking to hype their new movies, came as part of a series of roundtables promoted by new president Theo Kingma, who has said he wants to increase the journalistic credibility of the much-maligned organization of Hollywood-based reporters for foreign newspapers, magazines and websites.
In the conversation, Assange began by calling the HFPA’s creation of the Golden Globes in the early 1940s “basically a hack into the studio system” and “an amazing, successful coup” in getting stars and moviemakers to address the foreign press.
Some of the conversation dealt with “The Fifth Estate,” in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange – and rather than go into detail about why he thinks the film is inaccurate and “a hostile endeavor,” Assange turned analyst and said the movie “is destined to be a box-office failure,” because audiences prefer “combative underdog” stories.
While Cumberbatch approached his subject asking for a meeting, which Assange declined (in the process trying to persuade the actor not to appear in the movie), Assange criticized the filmmakers for not approaching him or WikiLeaks, and for not contributing to his defense fund or to WikiLeaks.
“I don’t think we are in a situation anymore where an organization like DreamWorks or Disney … can succinctly decide that it is going to produce a movie about living people, and living political refugees, and people who are embroiled in a grand jury proceeding in the United States, and just smear, without the cost,” he said.
Gibney, he said, was clearly biased against him, and “has [an] emotional engagement with me that is not proper for a journalist to have.”
Assange did repeatedly praise one movie about his company – “Mediastan,” a new WikiLeaks-produced documentary.
But although the conversation took place with a number of entertainment journalists, Assange spent most of his time railing against the U.S. and British security complexes that he said forced him to seek asylum in the Eucadorian embassy.
The Australian-born Assange, 42, is currently facing a European Arrest Warrant in a Swedish investigation into sexual assault; although he said, “I assume the Swedish case will disappear on its own accord in due course,” he refuses to turn himself in out of fear that Sweden would extradite him to the United States to face charges in the publication of U.S. military and diplomatic documents supplied by Bradley Manning (who now goes by the name Chelsea Manning).
“If you seriously tangle with the United States security complex…you will suffer the consequences,” he said.
“Of course it’s difficult to wake up over 500 days and see the same walls, but on the other hand I am doing good work,” added Manning, who said WikiLeaks was in contact with fugitive NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. “I have no time for anything else now but work, so it’s a bit of a counter-productive maneuver to trap me here, because what else can I do but work?”
Dimissing one question about whether his leaks put people in danger as “a Pentagon propaganda talking point” and a “malicious smear,” Assange insisted that U.S. and U.K. intelligence services “are completely out of control,” and that the United States “runs the risk of turning into a garrison state.”
“This is an unprecedented time which threatens to change the balance of power between the citizenry, the Fourth Estate and the security complex,” he said. “ … Western civilization stands at a crossroads. Down one path is … a mass surveillance dystopia with an unaccountable state that does not obey the rules … Down the other path is a new consensus that is being formed as a result of the communications revolution, and which is being stimulated by increased transparency of government by organizations like WikiLeaks, the FF and other innovative investigative journalism.”