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Ithaca review: Is Julian Assange’s fight for freedom ours too?

Often, a world-famous freedom fighter will have a personality and temperament as heroic as the actions that made him famous. Just look at Nelson Mandela, Alexei Navalny, Volodymyr Zelensky, or – controversial figure as he remains – Edward Snowden, who over 10 years acted as a profiler in Courage. But there are times when the personal and the political don’t sit so easily in the same person.

Julian Assange is one of those people. From the moment he launched WikiLeaks, the dissident site that provided an anonymous home for journalists and whistleblowers for divulging secrets and dumping documents of global power, there was an air of authoritarianism about him, an elusive belief in the veracity of his character. Actions teeter, at times, into chaotic recklessness. Assange, like Snowden, made important revelations about how governments, particularly the US government, operate: corruption, cover-ups, and collateral damage. Unlike Snowdown, he delivered his performances in an aggressive, haphazard manner that seemed designed to put himself at the center of the conversation.

By the time Assange was accused of sexual misconduct in Sweden and took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, guilty or not (the facts of the 2010 case remain a mystery), Assange’s brand had taken some degree of damage. On the media stage, he’s become a freedom fighter as a famous left-wing narcissist, a smiling lizard in his white hair a rock star, like Sting as a radical philosophy professor.

Yet you can believe all that about Assange and still think it’s wrong—profoundly wrong, not to mention dangerous—that the US government would try to throw him in jail for the crime of revealing secrets related to the Iraq War. The new documentary, Ithaca, is about the Assange case, though he barely appears in the film (we see surveillance footage of him inside the Ecuadorean embassy, ​​where he’s been held for seven years, and hear his voice on the phone). The film was made after Assange was arrested from the embassy in 2019, and imprisoned at HMP Belmarsh in London, where he spent the next nine months awaiting an extradition hearing in a British court.

Will the court approve the US authorities’ request to extradite Assange to America, where he will stand trial for violating the Espionage Act of 1917? If that happens, he will be the first journalist or publisher to be prosecuted for it. The effect will be (and has been) frightening. It is essentially the government that threatens future whistleblowers, who from the days of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers onwards have been an essential check and balance on the excesses of American power.

Assange, on WikiLeaks, published documents in partnership with The Guardian and The New York Times. Why weren’t those papers charged with violating the Espionage Act? Because it is much easier to target an underground agitator like Assange. US authorities have tried to focus on the crime of piracy, but they are not wrong: what is being threatened is what the mainstream media is doing, or supposed to be doing – print the news they deem necessary, even if they reveal government material they are technically prohibited displays. Even if Assange an act To break the law, to say he is an international traitor, guilty of espionage, is an evil stretch.

Laura Poitras’ 2017 documentary “Danger” was a close-up of Assange, shot through his early years in disgrace and stunned, in a volatile manner, like Assange himself. Ithaca is less about the man than it is about the case — how the ongoing prosecution of Assange fits into the cause of free speech. It’s an ethically cleaner watch. But it’s much less exciting. The central figure in the film is Assange’s father, John Shipley, who arrives from Melbourne to visit his son during the beginning of his imprisonment in Belmarsh. Shipley spends the months leading up to the extradition hearing trying to build support for Assange in Europe.

After all these years in captivity, Assange is no longer in good shape. has suicidal thoughts and feels mentally broken; He has trouble remembering when his birthday is. But during his time at the embassy, ​​he got engaged to one of the lawyers on his team, South African-born Stella Morris, and they had two children (we see them). Morris and Shipley share space in the documentary, and the entire film is a kind of family affair, and it was produced by Gabriel Shipley, Assange’s half-brother. (Writer and director is Ben Lawrence).

I’m sorry, but Family Matters doesn’t tend to make good documentaries. Julian did not know John Shipley when he was growing up. Shipley left the family when Julian was three and did not see him again until Julian was in his twenties. Assange considered his stepfather to be his father (which is why he took his last name), although he eventually reconnected with Shipley.

None of this suggests that Shipley showing up to help his son is anything less than sincere and loving. However, as you watch “Ithaca,” their relationship remains somewhat abstract. Shipley mostly talks about what his son means as a cause, and although he’s a straight talker, he’s not a very dynamic person. He’s 76 (with a 5-year-old daughter), tall, bearded, bespectacled, with long white hair and a fringe that makes him look every inch the elder statesman. He speaks in low tones of polished civility, saying things like “The media only serves power and money, really…if they deviate from that, they no longer exist.” A little bit of that sound (and those thoughts) and you’re really sleepy.

Shipley continues to defend his son on the British media, but would anyone expect him to do otherwise? “Ithaca” takes a narrow view of Assange’s problems, one that eventually fuses with a black-and-white view of his politics: He’s right, the US government is wrong. Perhaps it is, but what is being played into the background is the indiscriminate nature of WikiLeaks, and the question of whether governments should have secrets at all. Alex Gibney’s fantastic documentary We Steal Secrets: The WikiLeaks Story (2013) takes a more balanced view of Assange’s charm. And the fact that He is Mystery is part of what overwhelms the case. Assange’s case is, in my view, just, but his vision of press freedom would be easier to embrace if it were not embedded with a long-standing sense of his own entitlement.


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