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THE FIFTH ESTATE

The Debate of Our Times
"It may be decades before we understand the full impact of WikiLeaks and how it revolutionized the spread of information. With events still unfolding, this film does not aim to be the conclusive statement on the topic. Instead, we set out to create a drama that explores the challenges of transparency and that, we hope, enlivens and enriches the conversations WikiLeaks has provoked."
-- Bill Condon, Director

The First Estate: Clergy/Government

The Second Estate: Nobility/Wealthy Elite

The Third Estate: Commoners/Workers

The Fourth Estate: Press/Media

The Fifth Estate: Those who aim to keep the other estates in check, recently defined as whistleblowers, watchdogs, citizen journalists ... and WikiLeaks

Every generation produces a rebellious figure that changes the game of power and becomes something larger than him. For some, that person is a visionary symbol of hope; for others, a dangerous enemy of the state. In the early 21st century, such a figure has emerged in Julian Assange and his groundbreaking, information- disseminating organization, WikiLeaks. Initiated in 2006 as a nonprofit devoted to publishing previously secret, potentially incendiary information from anonymous sources, while offering the security of cutting-edge cryptography, WikiLeaks shattered the mold of 21st century news gathering, trumping mainstream media organizations and infuriating people in power.

Then, Assange became a news story unto himself. In 2010, as WikiLeaks led the release of the largest trove of secret, government files ever to see the light of day, Assange began to emerge simultaneously as a hero, a villain, a journalist, or perhaps just a guarded man caught in a blinding global spotlight.

At this very moment, Assange and WikiLeaks remain at the white-hot center of raging debates over where our society will draw the line between openness and security ... and who should decide where to draw those lines. It's a fire that is further fueled each time volatile information, the kind that can be both world changing and dangerous, is revealed, as in the recent case of Edward Snowden.

So in 2010, did WikiLeaks strike a bold, winning blow for democracy and justice, allowing ordinary people who had been kept in the dark to see the concealed actions of governments and corporations that skirted the edges of law? Or did it open the digital floodgates to reckless disclosures that could put people and nations in unpredictable peril?

These questions are at the heart of the first major feature film to explore the WikiLeaks phenomenon. Director Bill Condon probes them in a lightning-paced, kaleidoscopic portrait of our information-obsessed age, but does not pretend there can be any final answers at this juncture. Instead, he turns the story of WikiLeaks' emergence from an anonymous hacker's movement to a major world player into a gripping political thriller, a drama of friendship and betrayal, and a thought-provoking snapshot of a world where electronic communication can be both liberator and threat. Though the story pulses through a variety of screens -- in tweets and texts and strings of code -- Condon also unravels a starkly human story of fiery ideals colliding with thorny realities.

Like any unfolding story of invention and change, there are naturally several opposing versions of the rise of WikiLeaks. That is why Condon insists that "The Fifth Estate" is just one take on these contentious events -- events that are viewed very differently even by those working inside of them.

"This is a subject that almost no two people can agree on," Condon notes. "So, respecting that, we wanted to make a dramatic movie that would spark real conversations about the issues raised by this part of WikiLeaks' history. We didn't set out to make an anti-WikiLeaks movie, or a pro-WikiLeaks movie, but rather, to look at the how and why of some of the extraordinary things WikiLeaks accomplished. We chose to present multiple points of view, to pose a lot of questions, and then leave it up to you to come to your own conclusions."

Although the film is drawn, in part, from two of the most detailed accounts of WikiLeaks yet published, Condon has broadened the scope of the film. The result is a multiplicity of perspectives: that of Domscheit-Berg as an early admirer who would ultimately decry Assange's lack of accountability; that of the U.S. diplomats whose delicate work and local operatives were threatened by WikiLeaks' sudden revelations; that of the journalists who butted heads and wits with Assange as they scrambled to pull headline-making stories from WikiLeaks documents in a professionally vetted format; and that based on Assange's own words in which he champions the pure freedom of information, warns that he may be the target of government smear campaigns, and points out that no proof has been offered of any individual who came to bodily harm because of a document published by WikiLeaks.

But "The Fifth Estate" is first and foremost a work of cinematic drama, not a strict historical record. To make for compelling storytelling, events have been compressed, there are composite characters among the supporting cast, and the filmmakers have brought their own powers of analysis and imagination to all that is unknown about the elusive Assange and his private conversations.

"The film is not a documentary, and not designed to be one," Condon states. "A number of good documentaries on WikiLeaks already exist and there will doubtless be more. We wanted to do something different -- to explore some of the bigger issues WikiLeaks provoked in the world while also taking the audience on an emotional journey with a fascinating character of our times. 'The Fifth Estate' represents just a slice of the WikiLeaks story, and one interpretation of it. There are certainly going to be other chapters in this story in the future and that's part of what makes it so exciting."

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