Controversial hacker and Wikileaks associate Jacob Appelbaum is the subject of a secretive new documentary screening Sept. 10 for buyers in Toronto.
Appelbaum headlines “Nobody Wants to Talk About Jacob Appelbaum,” from Canadian filmmaker Jamie Kastner (“The Skyjacker’s Tale”). Variety has seen a near-final cut of the film.
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Made with direct access to the titular American, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Berlin, and filmed over two years at locations in Germany, Austria, Israel, Canada and the U.S., the doc offers a complex — and at times comedic — examination of secrecy, ethics, celebrity and the post-#MeToo landscape.
Appelbaum rose to prominence in 2010, working with Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden to expose controversial government surveillance programs, and in the process becoming a figurehead for the privacy rights community. In 2016, he resigned from his position at the online anonymity nonprofit Tor Project after multiple women levelled allegations of sexual assault, harassment and intimidation against him.
The incident became a lightning rod for the privacy rights community. Although Appelbaum has strongly denied any wrongdoing, the Tor Project said it found significant evidence of sexual misconduct, without providing details. A subsequent investigation by The Guardian painted a murky picture of conflicting accounts and ulterior motives.
Talking to Variety, Kastner said he expects extensive discussion around the film. “There are, of course, some very troubling accusations against Appelbaum,” he said, “and I was lucky to get the two investigative journalists — who covered [it] thoroughly at the time, speaking to almost everyone involved — in the film.
“In terms of my own investigation and understanding of the story, I had to plunge into this universe of hacker communities — which I really hadn’t seen portrayed in mainstream docs — in which revolutionaries and intelligence folk cross-pollinate in all sorts of surprising ways.”
Applebaum previously made appearances in Laura Poitras’s Snowden-focused Oscar-winner “Citizenfour,” as well as her Assange film “Risk.”
In addition to Appelbaum, Kastner’s doc features interviews with hacker and Noisebridge co-founder Mitch Altman, and civil rights attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler, among others.
“This film is not out to exonerate anyone,” Kastner said. “It is the story of a ground-breaking political community and how it fared in the cross-currents of our time. And al-
though he is the protagonist, Appelbaum — and what he has come to represent to people on various sides of this debate — is equally the vehicle through which this story is told.”
Besides “Applebaum,” Kastner’s Cave 7 Prods. has “Charlotte’s Castle,” a TVO-backed doc following a cast of quirky tenants as they fight to defend an upscale Toronto rental building from the machinations of a foreign-owned developer, on deck for the fall.
The films are Kastner’s first since 2019’s Canadian Screen Award-nominated “There Are No Fakes,” an investigative feature that kickstarted a massive police investigation into indigenous art fraud in Ontario, resulting in numerous arrests and lawsuits.
“Nobody Wants to Talk About Jacob Appelbaum” was made with financing from the Canada Media Fund, the Rogers Cable Network Fund and the OMDC and other Canadian tax credits. The CBC has Canuck TV rights and Anaïs Clanet at Paris-based Reservoir Docs is handling international sales, with all other territories up for grabs.
The film was written, directed and produced by Kastner through Cave 7. Laura Baron Kastner serves as producer, with Michael Hannan as editor and original music from Tom Third.
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