Underground, The Julian Assange Story
April 4 2013 a special screening of Underground, The Julian Assange Story was presented at the Palace Cinemas, Byron Bay New South Wales. This film was originally made, on commission, by Robert Connolly for Australian commercial television Channel 10 to be subsequently broadcast nationally and viewed by over 1.5 million people.
Robert Connolly is a politically conscious film director, producer and screenwriter based in Melbourne, Australia. He is best known as the director and writer of the feature films Balibo, Three Dollars and The Bank, and the producer of the high-profile Australian films Romulus My Father and The Boys. These are all highly recommended social and political issue films of a progressive nature and artistic quality that challenge the official status quo and sometimes censored versions of recent Australian events.
The Byron Bay screening was held in the largest cinema at the Palace Multiplex to a full house. It was presented as part of a series of special events being held across the country offered by the director with cast and crew in Q&A sessions with audience following the film. On this occasion Director Robert Connolly, Christine Assange (Julian’s mother and a life long political activist), actor Alex Williams (who played Julian Assange in his first role after completing acting school) were available. There was also WikiLeaks party spokesperson Sam Castro who provided information on the launch of the new Wikileaks political party and Julian’s run for a Federal Senate seat in Victoria. Following the event, everyone who attended was also given a CD ROM containing Production images, video featurettes, the film play, a chapter from the book the screen play was based on (Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electric Frontier) and a hyperlink to a directors commentary:
Underground, The Julian Assange Story is a “coming of age story”, a historical “bio-picture” and “thriller” all roller into one very watchable and engrossing film. The past collaborations of the Director/ Screen Writer, DOP and Production Designers etc al show a skillful approach, common vision and passion in recreating a specific time and place and the emergence of a singular mind and genius from obscurity into global peace activist.
Regardless of fact that Underground, The Julian Assange Story was made for commercial TV this film looks great. The flow and continuity, from one scene to another, never betrays any “hooks” for the presence of the original “commercial breaks”. Indeed the look and feel of the film is excellent, drawing the viewer into an analog world (not so long ago) on the cusp of a coming digital age.
We are immediately in Australia 1989 with a then 17 year old Julian Assange remembering a crucial family turning point from ten years before. This opening scene, like others in the film, links various themes from the adult Julian Assange public life, that people will be aware of (secrecy, running, hiding, social and political conundrums, charisma, sexuality, idealism etc.) with the adolescent Julian riding on a train. The motion of the train and sound design roll us into a dark and chaotic setting for the Assange family (single mum and two sons) that brings up questions and immediately engages the viewer. From here the fringe world of precarious living, political protest and activism, the beginnings of computer “hacking” in the telephone mode pre-internet era come alive and take shape to inform the accelerating narrative. In the tradition of all good suspense, cop and robbers (hacker) movies its style and tempo raise the risks rapidly as the events unfold.
Key to the believability of this film is its attention to the detail of the artifacts and settings of late 80’s Melbourne, with its punk attitudes and music centering around flea market computer swap meets and the telephone and computing gear of the time. The movie illustrates beautifully just how far and fast we have all come in 25 years by our conversion from the analog world into digital computers/gadgets and the internet (which still had not been invented at the time of the story). The star of the show could be Julian’s Commodore 64 computer, seen in use along with similar vintage machines, dot matrix printers, and a thick as a brick analog mobile phone the cops struggle to employ. The humor in this movie is dry, ironic and very Australian.
Over three hundred people attended in a mixed crowd of all ages. As there was no reserved seating, people cued early, sharing a growing atmosphere of pleasant anticipation. The local Independent newspaper The Echo along with the film making community of ScreenWorks were in obvious presence. It was a diverse crowd generating a sense of excitement as a self selected group of people coming together to support concepts of truth and freedom inspired by a man they had never met, but only heard of; Julian Assange. Among the crowd was a local character in an Anonymous mask, holding a homemade cardboard sign, who contributed another amusing theatrical aspect to the evening.
The Q&A session following the film was informed and interesting. The most popular question (the one that many present would have wished to asked but wouldn’t) came from a young boy: “Mrs Assange, what was it like to live with Julian when he was growing up?” Christine gave a parents answer by asking first “When?… How old are you?” The boy replied eleven. “Oh well, he was a beautiful boy with big eyes who was always asking ‘Why?’ questions … We had many long conversation about the Why of the world”
Other information came forth concerning Julian’s health and spirits in light of the human rights politics of his asylum status at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The formation of the Wikileaks Party of Australia with the strategy and intention for Julian to stand for the Federal Senate seat in Victoria. What winning it could achieve and what it could also mean for Australian politics. Interesting comments and observations came from Director Robert Connolly on the making of the film. There were also personal reflections from the young actor, Alex Williams on his playing Julian Assange by forgetting what he knew about the man and learning to code on a “Commodore 64” to understand how his character viewed the world in part.
I don’t get out much, for my own reasons, and usually don’t expect much when I do. This evenings event however was a pleasant exception as would be obvious from the above comments. Two important aspects remain with me:
Firstly are many questions concerning the fate of Julian Assange. Given the enemies he has made of the global “command and control” powers, regardless the sexual allegation charges made by Swedish prosecutors and / or if he becomes an Australian Senator. It seems he could likely be a “dead man walking” unless global public opinion and respect for truth in journalism can assist him to walk free into plain sight and continue his work. Julian has stirred up a deadly hornets nest and, like many other former 20th C cultural heroes have proved, is in grave danger. If we cannot protect Julian how can we expect to protect ourselves?
The other, equally important, feeling I take from this screening/ event was by being in the presence of Julian’s mother Christine. A primary and fundamental link was empathically established, sealing my appreciation for this man and his family, as being much like many other friends and collogues, in being and becoming advocates for truth and justice for all peoples in opposing corporate military secrecy and totalitarian agendas. Seeing and hearing the mother of this novel human~being who has stood out from the crowd to ask the world “why does the emperor have no clothes (sic)”. Appreciating this loving, stressed and flummoxed mother of such a crazy brave holy fool. A modern Parsifal who would dare to ask the forbidden questions, seize the power available and to then tell the world of the “big controllers” secrets.