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‘Fifth Estate’ Director Calls Assange a Liar, Praises Snowden

Posted on Oct 14, 2013

Director Bill Condon, left, with actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Julian Assange has taken strong objection to “The Fifth Estate,” Hollywood’s take on WikiLeaks’ adventures in journalism. In a new interview, the director of the film, Bill Condon, says the WikiLeaks publisher “just flat-out makes things up.”

Like Alex Gibney, who made a documentary about Assange and WikiLeaks and was likewise condemned by his subjects, Condon is not unknown to progressive moviegoers. His film “Gods and Monsters” is one of the better gay movies in a Netflix category dominated by shlocky coming out stories and soft porn. (He also made the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” “Kinsey” and two of the “Twilight” sequels.)  He tells The Verge it has been hard to take the heat:

It’s an odd reaction, because I found the film to be very supportive of the WikiLeaks mission itself, and citizen journalism in general. It almost plays as a call to arms.

I agree! But that’s the thing, that he conflates WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. He thinks they’re one and the same. That’s completely who he is. He is, in some basic way, unsocialized, isn’t he? And because he had to do it alone for so long, and had to really survive on his own for so long … When you realize that he’s hardly ever had a roof over his head that he could call his own — and that continues to this very day — it makes sense that somebody like that, when it actually turns into something bigger than him, can’t make the distinction anymore. That was his big argument to Benedict when we were shooting. “Don’t do this because all this stuff about whether I dye my hair or not gets in the way of the message,” and it’s sort of not true. He’s gotten in the way of the message to a great degree.

The movie portrays Assange as someone whose ego becomes more important than the greater good that the organization is doing. When he has those conversations with Benedict, or when WikiLeaks comes out with its review of the script, do you feel like he’s making the movie’s case for you in a way?

Well, that’s interesting. I know what you mean, and I know a lot of people have said that. But it’s a little frustrating, too, because as with the Gibney thing he releases this list of ways in which the movie is not true. And we have our own response to that. People have been saying, “No, no, this is fine. Hang back and don’t engage,” but it is frustrating. Because he just flat-out makes things up. But I hope what you’re saying is right. I think what’s interesting is that it’s just a different target all the time, but it’s the same message: that nobody’s telling the truth about me.

We’ve already covered Assange’s criticism of “The Fifth Estate” and his eloquent plea to actor Benedict Cumberbatch to turn down the lead role. But it’s worth noting that one of Assange’s major complaints about the movie is that it doesn’t give enough of the credit to the staff of WikiLeaks. Those don’t sound like the words of an egomaniac.

Both Condon and Gibney have praised Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower who was assisted by WikiLeaks. Condon says, “I think he’s learned from some of Assange’s mistakes. According to people I read and trust, like [The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger], he’s been extremely responsible in withholding anything that might cause any kind of damage to people in the field, for example. So I feel as though Julian is the pioneer, but what’s hopeful about the Snowden thing is that he is proceeding in a more responsible way.”

As of this posting, “The Fifth Estate” has a 44 percent (“rotten”) rating on meta-ratings website Rotten Tomatoes. It enters wide release this weekend.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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