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
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
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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