The indomitable Laura Poitras adds to her fascinating filmography with “Risk,” a years-in-the-making (and unmaking) portrait of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, beginning prior to his retreat into the embassy of Ecuador in London under threat of eventual extradition to the United States.
Less immediate and urgent than her Oscar-winner “Citizenfour,” “Risk” continues the filmmaker’s investigation of the post-9/11 conditions of the widespread and largely unchecked illegal surveillance state and the often shocking countermeasures against whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, both of whom factor significantly in this film.
The principal portrait, however, is made of Assange, and the 2017 version presented by Showtime differs from the original cut that Poitras debuted at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Anyone with an interest in the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks presumably knows the broad strokes of much of the timeline presented in “Risk,” but Jim Rutenberg’s April 9, 2017 “New York Times” article offers an indispensable explanation of the substantive way in which the movie changed following its premiere. Rutenberg writes of how allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at “privacy activist” Jacob Appelbaum, a man with whom Poitras was briefly involved, triggered modifications to the film.
In “Risk,” Poitras narrates entries from what she refers to as her “production journal,” revealing ways in which she must constantly sort out issues stemming from the interpersonal relationships that have developed from the highly unusual circumstances of her years-long production process. A number of critics have voiced concerns about the kind of access Poitras has enjoyed with this circle of subjects, questioning the limits of journalistic objectivity, such as it is -- especially in light of Poitras disclosing in the film her romantic relationship with Appelbaum.
In the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg asks several important questions, including “Should I interpret this disclosure as a blanket statement of belief in women who come forward with sexual assault allegations? Do I trust Poitras less for getting involved with one of her subjects, or more for her transparency?
Do I see Poitras primarily as a journalist or an artist or something in between, and depending on which one I choose, how should this revelation make me feel about her work?” That last question won’t bother the viewer who recognizes all approaches to filmmaking -- fiction, nonfiction, cinema verite, advocacy, editorial, journalism, etc. -- as constructed texts.
Positions of visual philosophy and moviemaking ethics aside, Poitras manages a feat of penetration most documentary filmmakers would envy. Assange’s transition from sprawling countryside estate to the narrow, cell-like compartments of the embassy is fascinating, especially when the typically icy and unflappable celebrity works out with a personal trainer in a space the size of a large closet or agrees to be interviewed by Lady Gaga.
“Risk” ends by bringing the viewer up to date, fleetingly, on the terrifying saga of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Poitras ends this particular story prior to revelations that Assange and WikiLeaks provided direct advice, help, and support to the Trump campaign, and then lied about doing so. Perhaps that tale will be told in a future film.
March 14th 2018
March 7th 2018
February 28th 2018
February 21st 2018
February 14th 2018
Although the temperatures were sub zero last Sunday, the crowd and competitors were certainly on fire at the Holiday Inn in Fargo for the 5th Annual Bartenders Battle.This event has become a highlight of the year for the service…
by John Showalter
In Fargo, we are certainly used to long, cold winters, but that doesn’t make us any less anxious for them to end with each coming spring. The arrival of warmer weather means longer days and finally being able to see green again…
by Greg Carlson
A captivating lead performance by Lene Cecilia Sparrok anchors the stout and handsome “Sami Blood,” winner of the award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Fargo Film Festival.Set principally in the 1930s, director Amanda…
by John Showalter
In my tenure at the High Plains Reader, I have devoted a lot of column inches to promoting the local music scene of the Red River Valley. However, I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t also bring your attention to another…
by Charlie Barber
“The thing to fear from the Trump presidency is not the bold overthrow of the Constitution, but the stealthy paralysis of governance; not the open defiance of law, but an accumulating subversion of norms; not the deployment of…