TORONTO: 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.
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 programme, led by The Fifth Estate.
The film, made and distributed by Disney/Dreamworks, was chosen to kick off Toronto weeks after former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked US 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 judgement 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 said. “I hope people walk away and go to dinner to talk about it.”
The Fifth Estate is based on the book by Assange’s once-trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who joined the Australian activist in 2007.