Laura Poitras: Risk

The right to fail… which is, I am afraid, what Laura Poitras does in her newest film ”Risk” that was released in theatres in the US early May. Actually she showed a version of the film at the Cannes Film Festival 2016, but changed it after the US Elections, one reason with Wikileaks and eventual Russian hacking into the Democratic party files and because (she says so in the film): “This is not the film I thought I was making. The hardest dilemma was the decision I had to make after the screening at Cannes. I had two choices: either walk away from the film and not release it or to address the [rape] allegations.”

Which she does in what is her most personal film after the fine works ”The Oath”, ”My Country, My Country” and of course the Oscar-winner ”Citizenfour” with Edward Snowden as the main character.

In ”Risk” it is Wikileak founder, the iconic Julian Assange, who is in

focus, surrounded by Sarah Harrison (the one who got Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow) and Jacob Appelbaum, who in the film (as Assange) is accused of sexual abuse within the Wikileak organisation.

Poitras fails to put – as she formulates it herself – ”the contradictions” together in a film with a flow and she does not avoid to jump from one event to the other as she does with the material she has filmed with Assange since 2011.

It gets superficial, is it about the impressive effort for freedom of the speech launched by Assange with the leaks or is it about him as a person, who indeed does appear as a male chauvinist p.. in some sequences and in others as an arrogant leader of the gang that operates within very little space in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Then there is a bit about Manning, then Applebaum strongly accusing Egyptian internet operators of closing access according to the government’s wish, then Lady Gaga ”interviewing” Assange, funny as she wants to know if he ever cries, if he has feelings etc. – and then, and it does not work, Poitras own comments ”notes from my production journals”.

Here she opens for some important conflicts she has had with Assange, ”I don’t trust him”, and – if I got that right – an affair she had with Applebaum that she and he did not want to have in the film, a dream she has… it just comes audio here and there.

I do appreciate and respect Poitras honesty but these hints are not developed and you sit there disappointed when you see that she wants too much, gets too little in a fragmented structure.

Photo: Sarah Harrison and Assange.

USA, 2017, 92 mins. (The film is available on Amazon, i-tunes etc.)

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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