WikiLeaks movie: How soon is too soon?
WikiLeaks is once again in the news Tuesday after its release of classified information about detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison. With the controversy, the question becomes more urgent: How quickly should, and can, Hollywood react to the WikiLeaks story?
Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks has acquired several books about the site and its controversial editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, including one from Guardian journalists as well as a memoir from former WikiLeaks executive Daniel Domscheit-Berg. And "The Hurt Locker" writer Mark Boal is developing a movie with Megan Ellison, producer and daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison, based on "The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the New York Times Magazine story about Assange.
But the project furthest along might be a documentary from Oscar-winner Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") that's set up at Universal. "We're moving, and we've been moving for four months," Gibney, who recently completed his documentary about reclusive Chicago Cubs fan-slash-scapegoat Steve Bartman, told 24 Frames.
While Assange makes a compelling story -- the polarizing Australian could still face U.S. criminal charges for the release of damaging and classified diplomatic cables in November -- Gibney said his movie will explore less heralded personalities in the WikiLeaks saga. "There's a mysterious figure like Bartman in this story: Bradley Manning," he said.
Manning is the soldier who was arrested last year and accused of passing along that classified information to WikiLeaks pertaining to the cables. "He's a fascinating figure," Gibney said, "because no one knows if he did it. We only have the word of one convicted hacker [Adrian Lamo, who handed Manning's name to the FBI], and if he did, why he did it."
Gibney said that despite the pervasive news coverage about WikiLeaks, he believed his film would uncover new layers in the information-vs-security saga. "It's one of those stories like Bartman or [his Eliot Spitzer expose] 'Client 9,' in that what you see in the film is not always what you thought before."
WikiLeaks is a golden opportunity for Hollywood to inject itself into the news and make a complicated story relatable. But it's also an instance in which it runs a risk of irrelevance.
A headline-driven movie like "The Social Network" re-created the drama of relatively recent events, but it was documenting a mostly closed chapter. WikiLeaks remains active not only in creating the news but in being a part of it, especially as new documents come out and law-enforcement officials continue to consider prosecutions.
A documentary could react somewhat nimbly to these fast-changing events. A dramatic feature, with its requirement for a script and other heavy machinery (not to mention significant lag time between a film's production and release), would have a bigger problem staying fresh.
Photo: Julian Assange outside a London court in February. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press