Coming to theatres today, Friday, May 31:
Tim Travers Hawkins
Hot Docs, Sydney, Sheffield
A portrait of whistleblower and activist Chelsea Manning.
In 2010, while on leave, Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst, leaked 750,000 classified or sensitive documents to WikiLeaks. As a result, she was court-martialed and convicted under the Espionage Act, and sentenced to 35 years in prison. While in prison, she publicly came out as a trans woman, and attempted to begin her transition, though oppressive prison policies hampered this process. Tim Travers Hawkins’ imperfect profile actually begins at the unexpected end of her imprisonment, when President Obama commuted her sentence to the seven years she had served. Blessed with close access to Manning, her attorney, and others in her intimate circle, the film captures Manning’s initial months of freedom, as she reflects on her past, is able to express her gender identity as she’d like, and becomes an outspoken activist both online and in public events, even running in a US Senate primary race. At the same time, the doc reveals the challenges Manning continues to face, from depression and suicidal ideation to severe missteps in her public persona, characterized here in a damaging episode in which she attempted to serve as a “double agent” at an alt-right rally but was pilloried by all sides. Hawkins has a lot of ground to cover, which makes the project feel a bit choppy at times, and, in light of ongoing developments touched upon at the film’s end – chiefly, his subject’s re-arrest for refusing to testify before a grand jury about Julian Assange – leaves a sense that the film may be only the first chapter of Manning’s continuing story.