Film fest promises full story of WikiLeaks
The Toronto Film Festival returns this week with a lineup containing some of Hollywood’s most anticipated new releases. Leading the pack is The Fifth Estate, which promises to lift the lid on the story of whistleblower Julian Assange and the furore that s
The Toronto Film Festival returns with Hollywood's hottest new releases including The Fifth Estate, which promises to lift the lid on the story of whistleblower Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
North America's largest film festival opens on September 4 with a drama about real life WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, promising the "full story" behind the whistleblower website.
The Fifth Estate by director Bill Condon is based on a book by Assange's once-trusted lieutenant and former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel DomscheitBerg, about events leading to the largest secrets leak in American history in 2010.
Its world premiere comes just weeks after soldier Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending 700,000 documents – military war logs and US diplomatic cables – to WikiLeaks, which published them.
Manning, who has asked to be recognised as a woman following his trial, was arrested in 2010 while serving as a junior intelligence analyst at a US base near Baghdad. The young soldier has been hailed by supporters as a hero for exposing what they see as US abuses in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but denounced by prosecutors as a traitor who put country and comrades at risk. Assange meanwhile remains
holed up at the Ecuador embassy in London after claiming asylum from that country a year ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault against two women.
"It's not that common for a feature film, particularly a Hollywood feature film, to deal with a story that is so current in the news," commented festival boss Cameron Bailey. "So it's interesting to see."
"Film is a uniquely emotive medium," he said. "It's got so many tools at its disposal: the power of the image, the size of the image, the communal way we watch movies, music, all of these things can combine to really make us feel something deeply or reveal a deeper truth."
"That can be a good thing in that sometimes dry news reporting doesn't give you the full story... Feeling sympathetic (or not) toward a central character can also influence your opinion on events or what they mean.
"I think this film is just one more way to understand Julian Assange and WikiLeaks," Bailey said. "The film does not come down hard on one side or another but it tries to make audiences understand all of the elements that are at play.
"It doesn't invite you to like or hate Assange. He's neither a hero nor a villain, he's a complex person and to its credit the film shows you that complexity. It doesn't ever let you rest on one simple impression of him."
The film festival, which ran through September 15, showcased 366 feature films, including 146 world premieres.
Though it did not award a jury prize like at Cannes or Venice, the Toronto film festival has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors, and attracts hundreds of filmmakers and actors to its red carpet.
This year's lineup included celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Aniston.
In addition to Condon's latest title, the festival featured several stories ripped from the headlines, such as Justin Chadwick's Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring British actor Idris Elba as the legendary South African
"It's not that common for a feature film, particularly a Hollywood feature film, to deal with a story that is so current in the news."
freedom fighter and based on his autobiography.
"It's far more than any news article or broadcast news could ever give you. It really gives you the feeling of transformation that this man underwent... to become a figure of inspiration for a country that he felt needed it," said Bailey.
"I don't think a simple recounting of the facts of Mandela's life is enough to give you the power of the emotion that this film does," he said. "You can only get that through fiction, whether in books or film."
Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan also screened his Devil's Knot about Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr, and Jason Baldwin. The three men were tried and convicted in 1994 of the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Prosecutors alleged the children were killed as part of a satanic ritual.
But new forensic evidence presented in 2011 led them to reach a deal with prosecutors which allowed them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.
They were released after having spent 18 years in prison.
Several documentaries, including Amy Berg's documentary West of Memphis, which premiered at last year's Toronto film festival, have been made about the case. Egoyan is the first to turn it into a feature film.
The Toronto Film Festival opened on September with The Fifth Estate, a drama about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The film, directed by Bill Condon, is based on a book by Assange's once-trusted lieutenant Daniel Domscheit-Berg and covers the events leading to the largest leak in American history in 2010. File photo
Director Bill Condon, pictured in Los Angeles, California, has brought his new drama, "The Fifth Estate," to Toronto. The highlyanticipated film sees Benedict Cumberbatch star as controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.