One good way to rile up a District movie audience is to show them a WikiLeaks documentary.
At the Landmark E Street Cinema on Tuesday night, a brief but heated argument broke out in the audience — while the movie was still playing — over the involvement of Adrian Lamo, the former hacker who turned in Army Pfc. Bradley Manning in 2010 for delivering classified material to WikiLeaks.
Director/writer/narrator Alex Gibney's skillful work drawing out the high-stakes drama, along with the pathos and even humor of his main characters — Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — clearly struck a chord at the early screening.
The filmmaker, who was there in person, described his film "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" as an "agent provocateur."
"I found that there was a lot of gray in this story," he said, chiding any audience that wants to put either a white or black hat on any of the story's actors, though he expressed personal criticism of President Obama's administration for lacking transparency.
"I tend to see the whole matter of leaking as a matter of balance," said Gibney, who won an Oscar for his 2007 documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side."
Gibney said that while his movie is being released at a moment of heightened concern about government spying on journalists, he believes history demonstrates — and his movie shows — a "slow momentum" toward "something close to criminalizing journalism." The story he intends to tell is of the "great tragedy" of a missed opportunity for an alliance between an organization like WikiLeaks and mainstream news.
The 130-minute film (the original cut was 3 hours and 30 minutes, Gibney said) is rated R and opens in Washington on May 31 at AFI Silver Theatre.