Risk is a film by Laura Poitras comprised of footage she took during a 6 year period of personal access to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. I was very excited about this film, because I am interested in Wikileaks, but also because I loved Poitras’ previous film, Citizen Four. Hoping to gain insight into Julian Assange and Wikileaks, I went to see RISK.
Before I saw the movie there were some comments on twitter and some reviews that seemed to indicate this film was heavy handed on sexual allegations against Julian Assange and a then member of the TOR project Jacob Applebaum. I do not know a lot about Applebaum’s situation but I was well aware of the hollow allegations against Julian and how the Swedish Gov has used this all too common method to attempt to extradite him. So I figured it was just people who were learning about these things for the first time, and did not pay too much attention to the comments.
Myself and two other people were in the theatre. Not a great sign, but not uncommon in my area. It is hard for me to write a critical review of this film because it is really incoherent. The best way I can describe this film is that it jumps in and out of conversations that take place over a six year period with no context or completion whatsoever. One can find more footage of Assange inside the embassy with a quick youtube search. There is no insight into Assange as a person, his daily life, or the operations of Wikileaks. At one point Laura Poitras narrates “Sometimes I cannot believe what Assange allows me to film”, and I thought to myself, when are we going to see THAT footage?!
The viewer is thrust into the middle of a conversation and removed from it before the conclusion of it. The only mildly interesting portion was an interview with Lady Gaga and Assange that was a fun meeting between two very different personalities.
Left with no good content to talk about I can at least address the issues with the director highlighting the sexual allegations without showing the evidence of them being a false flag. From what I understand the first version of RISK that was shown at a film festival in 2016 does not include this content and for some reason Poitras decided to re-edit the film to highlight the sexual allegations.
I have not seen the original version and I am having trouble locating it. In this version Poitras mentions the sexual allegations against Assange and includes some lawyers advising him on how to handle it. She chose not to include information that shows these allegations are unfounded. For example the women admitted they never intended to open a case and were pressured by police. Aside from the omission of newer information Poitras only clear message was against Jacob Applebaum. At one time these two were dating and in the film Laura Poitras is very clear she thinks the allegations against him are true.
Following the film I spoke to the other two people in the theatre. One person knew nothing about Wikileaks, and simply picked this film at random. The other had seen Citizen Four and had some knowledge of Wikileaks. The 3rd was myself, having the most information about Wikileaks and Assange. None of us liked the film. The person that knew nothing of the story was utterly confused and learned nothing. The other expressed his dislike for the film in contrast to Citizen Four. He felt this movie was completely random and he did not know who the people on the screen were or what they were talking about. As for myself, being able to at least understand the film by filling the gaps with my own knowledge, I found no new information or even a shred of an insight into the subject matter.
Part of me wondered if Laura Poitras was under pressure to edit this film in such a way as to make it useless. She was clear to highlight the idea of balancing risk to one’s self, suggesting that if the risk was too great, one should avoid taking that action. She clearly explains how she is pressured by the US government and detained at airports etc. She then quotes Assange: “This film is now the greatest risk to my freedom and I must act accordingly” ….
Did she decide her own freedom was more valuable than the footage she could have shown? Or did she just fail at making a coherent documentary?