| TORONTO, Sept 5
TORONTO, Sept 5 "The Fifth Estate," an unlikely
thriller that chronicles the emergence of anti-secrecy website
WikiLeaks and its enigmatic founder Julian Assange, premiered at
the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday.
English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange,
called the debut at Toronto the "perfect marriage" of a
festival, known for its popular participation, and a film, about
what he called "people journalism."
The festival is also considered a harbinger of the awards
season. Films that have fared well in Toronto, like "Slumdog
Millionaire," have gone on to win best picture Oscars.
Some 366 films, including 146 world premieres, will screen
over 11 days. Transparency and secrecy in the Internet age have
emerged as prevalent themes in the program, led by "The Fifth
The film, made and distributed by Disney/Dreamworks, was
chosen to kick off Toronto weeks after former government
contractor Edward Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance data with the
help of WikiLeaks and Assange.
"As we have seen in the Edward Snowden case, this is a story
that continues to be central, and we have also seen that people
of great intelligence and goodwill disagree," director Bill
Condon told the Toronto audience.
Condon said "The Fifth Estate" was not a judgment about
WikiLeaks or Assange, but a portrayal of a complex issue that
raises more questions than answers about the struggle between
transparency, privacy and the security implications.
"There is no takeaway or single right or wrong," Condon
told Reuters. "I hope people walk away and go to dinner to talk
"The Fifth Estate" is based on the book by Assange's
once-trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who joined the
Australian activist in 2007. The two worked to make the site for
whistle-blowers one of the most powerful sources of information,
culminating with the largest leak of official secrets in
American history in 2010.
Condon said one of the challenges he faced was how to make
the film compelling. Two guys at laptops, communicating by
instant message, isn't exactly spellbinding.
The film, however, moves at a fast clip, and the pace of the
movement of messages and information heightens the drama.
Cumberbatch's Assange is rude, awkward and unkempt, but what
most turns off his allies, including editors at big newspapers
that publish information from WikiLeaks, is his disregard for
people, like informants, whose lives might be endangered by the
leaks of government cables.
Assange has been highly critical of the film, but Condon
said he hacked an early version of the script and is
ill-informed about the portrayal of him and WikiLeaks.
"He called us the anti-WikiLeaks movie," Condon said. "You
will find that it is in no way anything but kind of supportive,
kind of a celebration of the idea behind WikiLeaks."
In addition to "The Fifth Estate," world premieres of note
in Toronto include "August: Osage County" starring Meryl Streep
and Julia Roberts in a drama of a dysfunctional family, and
"Dallas Buyers Club," in which Matthew McConaughey plays an AIDS
activist who smuggles treatment drugs from Mexico.
The story of a free man who is enslaved in "12 Years a
Slave" has its official premiere on Friday night in Toronto. But
its first screening came last week in a surprise show at the
Telluride Film Festival, where is drew critical acclaim and
speculation about an Oscar nomination.