Wikileaks and the role of Documentary

“Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
D’you know that you can use it? “- the clash- clampdown

I’ve been pretty much ignoring the wikileaks mess because I know that if pay attention I’ll get infuriated. I understand that governments need a certain level of secrecy to function properly. So when I first heard about some of the diplomatic cables being released I cringed a little. In some ways these releases seem vindictive and counter productive in terms of bettering relations among nations. On the other hand, as a documentary filmmaker, working without support or credentials, my hackles are raised by the way Assange is being attacked by both governments and the media. Still, I tried to avoid paying attention because all of the focus on Assange takes away from the very legitimate concerns of those who want to hold governments and the military accountable when they cross the line. When soldiers accidentally kill innocent people, even when following protocol, it’s important that we have the right to discuss it. Knowing that there are consequences for our actions gives us a reason to be more careful.

Last night, while going through footage for our current documentary, “Battle of Brooklyn” I came across the footage embedded below. The occasion was a hearing on the environmental impact statement about the Atlantic Yards project in 2006. This hearing was supposed to be an opportunity for community residents to air their concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed project. I was filming the crowds outside the event when a publicist instructed me to head across the street to a press conference being given by the developer. I was extremely excited because I knew that I needed the developer’s point of view to keep my documentary balanced.

I ran across the street and got set for the fun to begin. After about 10 seconds another publicist told me that I had to leave. I explained to this gentleman that his colleague had instructed me to come over, but as you can see in the footage he made it clear that the event was only for credentialed media. What made this particularly galling to me was that the publicity company organizing the event was owned – or at least previously owned – by documentary filmmaker Dan Klores.

There is no question that Mr. Klores is a very talented filmmaker, and I would hope that he understands how important the free flow of information is to telling even-handed, complex stories. I also understand that he now has very little to do with the day to day running of the organization that bears his name. Last year, while discussing a recent film on the radio, when questioned about the project, he made statements in support of it. While I believe that he has every right to support the project, I object to the fact that the company bearing his name worked diligently for 7 years years to obstruct the flow of useful information.

This press conference was more about distracting the media from the real discussion that was taking place across the street. By trotting out several basketball stars the publicity company was able to get the “credentialed media” to ignore that the discussion was supposed to be about the environmental impact of the project. At the same time, because they didn’t feel like they could trust what I would do with the footage I was shut out. Meanwhile the press conference was taking place in the lobby of a court building that the developer, Ratner, built.

Most of the films that we make are in some way about the flow of information. We tend to follow stories about people who butt up against the biggest social power structures. In general they seem to get treated poorly by the mainstream media. So when I see and hear the media piling on Assange, I try not to jump to conclusions.

With our films, we try to get people to think a little bit more deeply about how and who they get their information from. It’s a complex thing to think through, especially when the people at the center of a story are journalists or documentarians working outside of the media fraternity. Today on the radio I heard journalist after journalist take pot shots at Assange for not being a proper journalists. On one level he is working with journalists as a source, providing information. On another level he is working as a journalist, sifting through information from other sources to put together a complex story.

Assange’s goals and his story are clearly a complex mess, and casual following of the story only increases one’s confusion. So for the time being, I’ll bury myself in my work and wait till things calm down to try to make some sense of it. Maybe it would be a good doc for us to work on.

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