April 6, 7:30 pm
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
3519 N. Clark, Chicago
Buy tickets for April 6: https://drafthouse.com/chicago/event/live-q-a-ithaka
Don’t miss the chance to attend an exclusive screening of ITHAKA followed by an in-person discussion with Julian Assange’s father John Shipton, brother Gabriel Shipton, and Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office.
Ithaka, the new documentary film showcasing the global fight to defend Julian Assange, the right to publish, and your right to know. The film follows Assange’s father, John Shipton, for two years and paints a picture of the world’s most famous political prisoner. The WikiLeaks founder has become an international beacon of free speech. His imprisonment is the cornerstone of the continued fight for journalistic freedom and against government corruption and unpunished war crimes.
“Ithaka is an intimate portrait of Julian Assange, told from the perspective of those who love him,” said Ben Lawrence, director of Ithaka. “As we have screened this film around the world, we have witnessed its ability to re-energize the contemporary battle for a free press, free speech, and the fight to free Julian Assange.”
The Assange Defense Committee
Progressive Magazine film review: ‘Ithaka’ Makes a Personal Appeal to Free Assange
Director Ben Lawrence’s award-winning Ithaka, released in theaters March 1, takes viewers behind the curtain into the ongoing struggle to prevent Julian Assange, arguably one of the planet’s most famous political prisoners, from being extradited from the United Kingdom. Assange faces espionage charges in America for exposing U.S. atrocities and classified information.
Assange mostly appears on screen in archival footage, news clips, home movies, and phone calls, since shooting for the documentary began after the WikiLeaks founder was forcibly removed from his refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London and held in Britain’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison.
Those calls are generally with Stella Moris, Assange’s attorney and wife, with whom the WikiLeaks publisher has two children. Ithaka focuses on Stella, along with Assange’s seventy-seven-year-old father, Australian John Shipton, who has flown to England (and later to New York) to play an active part in the quixotic crusade to prevent his son from being extradited. They are joined onscreen by Julian’s younger half-brother, Australian filmmaker Gabriel Shipton, who worked on films such as 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and is a producer of Ithaka.
The film, which is named after John Shipton’s favorite poem, takes us inside the movement to free Assange. We get up close and personal with John, who was largely estranged from Assange until the latter was in his twenties. John often comes across as a cranky contrarian with personal issues, who somehow manages to rally and rise to the occasion while suffering from deteriorating physical and mental health. Stella is equally admirable, a strong woman loyally standing by the man she loves, whom she regards as a hero to the cause of freedom of the press.
Ithaka stresses that if Assange is extradited to America, supporters fear he’d face extremely harsh conditions. He would also become the first journalist ever convicted under the draconian Espionage Act, a blow against journalism, transparency, and democracy. From London to New York, Stella, John, and Gabriel lobby influential people, make media appearances (which John detests, but does anyway), and speak at many rallies, where they are joined by numerous others carrying signs demanding “Free Julian Assange!”
Notable dissidents such as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, plus United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, support the cause. As does NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, seen in exile in Russia, declaring that Assange could be “imprisoned for the rest of his life for the best thing Julian ever did.” In a charming moment at the film’s end, many rank-and-file protesters are thanked by name as the credits roll.
Instead, Washington is trying to incarcerate Assange in America because, as Amy Goodman explained on Democracy Now!: “In 2019, Julian Assange was indicted in the United States on seventeen counts of violating the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.”
According to Ithaka, Assange faces a 175-year prison sentence if he is convicted under the World War I-era Espionage Act, which was enacted during the country’s first Red Scare and was aimed at silencing and persecuting the antiwar, pro-labor Left, from Socialist Eugene V. Debs (who ran for president from a prison cell) to anarchist Emma Goldman, one of hundreds of immigrants who were deported under the act. Britain’s outspoken former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, gets to the heart of the matter in Ithaka when he eloquently points out: “Not one of those people who committed war crimes is on trial anywhere. Instead, the one who [exposed] it is on trial. And that’s not right.”
The most damning, dramatic portion of the almost 750,000 classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents that U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning was eventually convicted for providing to Assange, who exposed them via WikiLeaks in April 2010, was “a classified U.S. military video depicting three airstrikes from a U.S. Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007 in New Baghdad, Iraq. At least eighteen people were killed in the airstrikes, including two journalists working for Reuters,” according to WikiLeaks. Children were wounded and none of the civilian casualties, including Reuters’ Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, proved to actually be militarily threatening U.S. forces.
There have been other films made about the WikiLeaker, including features such as 2012’s Underground: The Julian Assange Story and Bill Condon’s 2013 biopic The Fifth Estate starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and documentaries like Laura Poitras’s 2016 Risk and 2017’s Hacking Justice. But the 106-minute Ithaka is arguably the most deeply personal production made about a man who, the documentary reminds us, is also a father, husband, son, and brother. Assange, who is now fifty-one and reportedly in mental and physical distress, deserves to be reunited with his family. The war criminals should be behind bars, not those who reveal their crimes against humanity.