“Ithaka” review: Caught between intellect and emotion

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, incarcerated since 2019 in London’s Belmarsh Prison, is a polarizing figure in many ways and debatable about his motives, behavior, tactics and friends. Did he help Donald Trump with the Democratic National Committee email dump to save his skin? Is he more of a narcissistic hacktivist than a thoughtful whistleblower?

But being targeted for extradition from the United States to stand trial here over WikiLeaks’ release of Iraq and Afghanistan war files and communications under the Espionage Act — a conviction under which he would have carried a maximum prison term security for the rest of his life – is something that should chill the blood of journalists everywhere, whether you consider Assange a journalist or not. Just because he is a publisher, his prosecution is a threat to democracy.

Needless to say, the unsympathetic make the best examples of the powerful in maintaining a climate of control, and when the power is a government, curtailing the freedom of the press is always in its crosshairs. A new documentary, “Ithaka,” directed by Australian filmmaker Ben Lawrence and produced by Assange’s half-brother, Gabriel Shipton, tests one conclusion: So, Assange’s defense can be better supported by sidelining his presence, foregrounding them do you also like sticking to the topic at hand?

“Ithaka” focuses on the fight to free Assange from his legal peril through the rallying efforts of his septuagenarian father, John Shipton, and then-fiancée Stella Morris, with whom Assange has two children. (Assange and Morris were married last year.) As they bide their time in the UK awaiting the London trial that will decide his extradition status, they travel as much as necessary to have politicians and organizations from other countries by their side as they participate in the media coverage that brings its own struggles in separating the personal from the political and the reputation from the fact.

Shipton and Morris are indeed figures to care about, their lives on an unimaginable line between worrying about a loved one whose health and mental state is often reported as precarious and needing strength for their own campaign to find supporters . In particular, Shipton – who resembles his son’s thinness, soft tone, full intelligence and pale features – pulls us through the obvious discomfort he feels at being the object of human interest in a struggle that wants to focus on the situation of his son and the cause of transparency and journalism. Lawrence follows this theme of man vs. mission closely, briefly showing Shipton with a 6-year-old daughter in real-time footage at a friend’s house in the English countryside, but keeping details of Shipton’s family life in Australia otherwise absent. .

Morris, meanwhile, is seen taking care of herself and Assange’s boys, talking to Assange on the phone (we only hear occasional snippets of a faint voice), and giving interviews that speak to her deep support for Assange’s work and the belief that he is a political prisoner whose life is in danger. The subject of psychological torture is addressed in the film by interviewee Nils Melzer, a Swiss lawyer and UN human rights expert, who points to his own initial reluctance to look into Assange’s case as evidence that character prejudice was a effective tool to help calm Assange. .

Still, “Ithaka” isn’t as effective a documentary as it could be, sometimes feeling caught between wanting to reason with on-screen text and contextual story and seek out moments of observation that crystallize pain and the concern for the Assange family. Where Laura Poitra’s flawed but compelling 2016 film “Risk” wrestled admirably with her disillusionment with Assange as a person, “Ithaka” — clearly hoping to be corrective — has a meandering quality, almost afraid to confront controversy that will it could be argued that it is not.’ It is as important as what a successful prosecution of Assange bodes ill for journalism. People are complicated, as Shipton rightly pleads at one point, but a more forceful, robust defense might have helped remove “Ithaka” from its official reporting.


It has not been rated

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Game: Starts March 3, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, downtown Los Angeles

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