WikiLeaks Sabotages 'Fifth Estate' With Its Own Julian Assange Film

5:28 PM PST 10/20/2013 by Pamela McClintock
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Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Julian Assange

Free downloads of "Mediastan" are offered up just as "The Fifth Estate" bombs in North America -- the worst opening of the year so far for a film opening in more than 1,500 theaters.

Did Julian Assange get the last laugh?

Assange's longtime campaign against Bill Condon's WikiLeaks movie, The Fifth Estate, culminated with the renegade website offering free downloads of its own documentary Mediastan just as Fifth Estate was released in North America by Disney's Touchstone label.

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"This weekend," Assange said in a statement, "instead of wasting your time and money on Hollywood propaganda, why not get all your friends around and spend your time watching Mediastan instead?"

Regardless of what role Mediastan played, Fifth Estate quickly died, grossing a paltry $1.7 million from 1,769 theaters -- the worst opening of the year so far for a movie opening in more than 1,500 theaters.

There were no immediate stats available in terms of how many times Mediastan was downloaded in North America. Last weekend, 500,000 people downloaded a free copy of the documentary when it was made available to coincide with Fifth Estate's release in the U.K. (which would equal $4.2 million in U.S. box office receipts).

"We're disappointed with these results," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, noting that Fifth Estate did best in big cities, including New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Toronto. The pic also skewed slightly male (54 percent).

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Other insiders close to the film say Americans, particularly those living in conservative states, have no interest in Assange or WikiLeaks.

Assange has repeatedly criticized Condon's film for presenting a skewed view of himself and WikiLeaks. At one point, he even wrote a note to Cumberbatch asking the actor to drop the project.

On the eve of Fifth Estate's domestic debut, Assange -- who remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London -- even Skyped with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, predicting that Condon's movie would fail because it didn't present a proper underdog story.

Mediastan upped the stakes even further. Produced by Assange, the documentary recounts "Operation Cablerun," in which thousands of secret American diplomatic cables were posted by WikiLeaks and leaked to The Guardian and The New York Times.

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The logline for Mediastan states that the film features "an undercover team of journalists driving across the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan." They later regroup in Assange's kitchen before "ambushing the editor of The Guardian and obtaining candid footage of The New York Times editor [Bill Keller] and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger speaking about Obama."

"This [Mediastan] is journalism in extremis," Assange said. "This is how it is done."

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