Film review: Ithaka

A gripping new documentary following John Shipton's fight to save his son, Julian Assange

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Premiering as part of Sheffield Doc Fest (until 28 June,, Ithaka is a new documentary that tracks the campaign to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, led by his father John Shipton and his then fiancée (now wife) Stella Moris.

Opening with Assange’s arrest in 2019, when he was escorted out of the Ecuadorian Embassy where he’d been holed up for nearly seven years, Ben Lawrence’s film weaves together a fascinating array of material, including news reports, CCTV footage from the embassy, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Shipton and Moris filmed over a two year period to chart the attempts to have him released from Belmarsh and saved from extradition to the US.

Shipton takes centre stage in the film. The 75-year-old retired builder from Australia is a gentle, thoughtful man who is reluctantly drawn into the media spotlight as he attempts to “get Julian out of the shit”. He’s not a natural campaigner or ardent activist, but concerns for his son’s deteriorating physical and mental health drive him forward on a mission around Europe to rally a global network of supporters and engage with the media to promote his son’s cause. It’s a deeply personal, and sometimes very sad portrait of a man who is trying to do what’s right.

No less interesting is Moris, who started off as part of Assange’s legal team but ended up in a relationship with him, giving birth to his son while he was still trapped in the embassy.

Produced by Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, this isn’t always a journalistically balanced exploration of the facts as they stand. The allegations of sexual assault in Sweden that led to Assange taking refuge in the embassy are mentioned, but not really explained or explored, for example. But ultimately this is an engrossing film that does give some insight into Assange’s life, helpfully recaps and reminds us of the details which led to him being incarcerated, and explores the issues of press freedom and democratic process that are at stake.

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