Oliver Stone and his producing partner Moritz Borman have thrown their hats in the ring and will make a movie about Edward Snowden, the former systems administrator for the CIA and a counterintelligence trainer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who later worked for the National Security Agency and then made public thousands of classified documents, an act which has been called the most significant leak in U.S. history since the release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg.
Stone and Borman bought screen rights to The Snowden Files: The Inside Story Of The World’s Most Wanted Man, a book by Guardian journalist Luke Harding that’s published by Guardian Faber. Stone will write and direct the film based on Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of the disclosures provided by Snowden. It’ll be mounted as a European co-production.
I got a no comment from insiders when I asked if Snowden’s rights are part of the package. He’s currently residing in Russia, after fleeing the U.S. and trying unsuccessfully to find a place to live in other countries. Harding and other Guardian journalists will also act as exclusive production and story consultants. This is the first project Stone has sparked to since he exited plans to make a movie on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is one of the greatest stories of our time,” Stone said in a statement. “A real challenge. I’m glad to have the Guardian working with us.”
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said: “The story of Edward Snowden is truly extraordinary, and the unprecedented revelations he brought to light have forever transformed our understanding of, and relationship with, government and technology. We’re delighted to be working with Oliver Stone and Moritz Borman on the film.”
This will follow in a line of movies about whistleblowers that range from Silkwood to On The Waterfront, All The President’s Men, Serpico, Erin Brockovich, The Insider, Michael Clayton and more recently The Whistleblower and The Fifth Estate. In this case, a Snowden movie will face the same questions as when there was a stampede to make movies about Julian Assange after he dumped reams of classified documents through WikiLeaks. DreamWorks and Bill Condon won that race with the Benedict Cumberbatch/Daniel Bruhl-starrer Fifth Estate, and the result was a flop. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Assange was impossible to root for.
I mentioned Ellsberg up top, and after watching the superb documentary The Most Dangerous Man In America by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith on Ellberg’s actions during the escalating Vietnam War, I am surprised nobody has made a major studio movie on his life. There is a similar kind of drama getting the Pentagon Papers published as there was when inter-media cooperation made it impossible for a confidentiality clause with Brown & Williamson to snuff out the testimony about the addictive nature of tobacco by scientist Jeffrey Wigand on 60 Minutes, which was key to the plot of the Michael Mann-directed The Insider. I recall in the docu that once he was exposed as the leaker, Ellsberg admitted to it and was asked point blank how he felt about the possibility of going to jail for leaking top-secret documents showing the White House and military had been deceiving the public on its reports about troop commitments, the resolve of the Vietcong and the progress of the Vietnam War. Ellsburg said that if this was the price of stopping an unjust war, he would gladly pay it.
Viewed through the prism of history, Ellsberg, like Wigand, clearly qualifies as a protagonist if a movie was made about him, a guy who stood up for what he believed was right, who was willing to stay and accept the consequences. In the case of Assange, whatever noble context he might have had evaporated because of his hubris, the sexual allegations waged against him, and his inability to protect the sources of his documents. Nobody came to see the DreamWorks movie. Even in the skilled hands of Stone, how does one cast Snowden, who seems equally cagey in interviews that are taking place in Russia, where he is currently ensconced?