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A portrait of the protester as a young man
'Underground: The Julian Assange Story' is about a boy, who loved hacking because when I am hacking, I travel the world. The film, directed by Australian filmmaker Robert Connolly, traces Assange's journey from a boy who spent years hiding from his father to a teen who transformed the very nature of protest. Connolly talks to TOI-CREST about the man who went on to become the founder of WikiLeaks founder and the bête noire of many governments.
What transformed a boy into one of the world's most well-known faces?
It is the story of a 17-year-old boy becoming politically active. That is a very relevant story today in this point of history when people are disillusioned with politics. I think there is a global movement today where citizens in democracies are demanding more transparency from their governments. That is exciting because we can't turn a blind eye to what our governments are doing. During my research for the film, I found that Assange had started hacking with his friends for fun. He hacked into the US military computer for fun. But once he started hacking, he kind of formed his political ideas. The film is an unauthorised biography. I didn't speak to Assange, but spoke to people who knew him. I knew people wanted to see a complex view of Assange's life than an authorised version.
How did the young Assange perceive technology as a means of staging a protest?
This was a pioneering time in 1989. I was very interested in showing that it was the end of an era for street protest. The young Assange saw the possibility of using technology as a means of protest. He was unable to understand what he was saying. He was ahead of his time and wanted to find a way. That way was WikiLeaks, but it took him many years to discover it. It was also a very interesting period of history because his story is set a few months before the fall of the Berlin wall and the first Gulf war.
Was his fight based on a right vs wrong ideology?
I think so. He was viewing it not as a left or right politics. He was viewing it as right or wrong values. His mother was a huge influence on the child. During my interviews with her for the movie, I learned that she didn't teach him about left and right politics or about an ideological approach to politics. She talked to him about values, what is good and bad. That had a huge impact on him. There is also a dynamic between the teenaged Assange and his fellow hackers, which influenced him. One of his friends was more for destroying things while hacking. Assange opposed it.
You mean technology replaced ideology?
He used technology to provide a new life to protesting. What I learned was he had a genius aptitude for computers. This was the time before the Internet. This boy was a skilled practitioner of computer and chose not to use those skills to steal money by hacking into bank accounts. His mother actually had to leave her high rent accommodation for a low rent one so that she could buy her son a computer. This young man was able to see the potential of technology as a social change at the time when the world was changing.
But traditional protest exists even today and is more effective as events show us.
During the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, millions of people around the world came to the streets to protest. But the traditional protests had lost their impact. Later, the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement following the economic downturn and the 'Arab Spring' showed that protests are coming back in a combination of social media and the Internet and street protests. Technology has provided the right kind of ability to mobilise the protests. The Internet and the computer provide a powerful platform for an activist to protest today.
You adopt a different cinematic approach to telling a serious story in a film titled like a docu-drama.
The best way for a political fimmaker to affect an audience is to entertain them. I wanted to make a political thriller, a socio-political story, but also a technothriller about the evolution of a man.
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