Tribeca: Chelsea Manning’s Lawyer Says "I’m Very Concerned for Her"
At the premiere of 'XY Chelsea,' the filmmakers, Manning’s legal team and friends gathered to discuss the documentary and her current legal situation.
Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who was incarcerated for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks while serving in the Army, is the subject of the documentary XY Chelsea, which chronicles her release from prison, her gender transition and her activism in the years following her incarceration.
On March 8, Manning was sent back to prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury in the trial of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday night, her legal team expressed concern for her well-being.
"I’m very concerned for Chelsea. I’m concerned for her being in prison obviously," said attorney Nancy Hollander. "She’s not in solitary anymore, but I’m very concerned about her being there. And I’m concerned about what this means for the rest of her life. That this is just another example that the government is going to continue to go after her. There’s really no reason for them to need Chelsea’s testimony at this point as far as I’m concerned."
Hollander said Manning’s refusal to testify had to do with her opposition to the grand jury process.
"The grand journey is a secret organization that we shouldn’t have in our system to begin with," she said. "If she testifies, she runs into tremendous risk for herself and she also doesn’t believe that we should have grand juries, and I agree with her."
The Hollywood Reporter senior editor Eriq Gardner moderated the conversation between Manning’s lawyers Hollander and Vince Ward, film producer Isabel Davis, director Tim Travers Hawkins and journalist Manning’s close friend Janus Rose. Gardner asked if her actions had anything to do with Assange, and Rose said she is acting on principles.
"She’s concerned about herself. She’s really concerned about using this as an opportunity to engage in another protest against a system that she finds unjust," said Rose. "I’ve gotten to know her pretty well and if there’s one thing I can say about her, it’s that she’s extremely committed to her principles. She acts based on principles and not based on loyalty to any particular person."
Producer Davis and director Hawkins began making the film in 2015 when Manning was in prison, and Hawkins and Manning communicated by letters and diaries. At first, Hawkins thought it was going to be a high-concept film without Manning in it, but when President Barack Obama commuted her sentence, the act that starts the documentary, all of a sudden it became a different movie.
"I remember at the time of her letter she made a dark joke that she wouldn’t get to go to the premiere, and now we’ve come full circle,” Hawkins said. “The story changed, and it changed so fast."
Manning has seen the film, and Hawkins said that she approves of the narrative it tells. Rose added that she wanted to use the moment of her release for a change.
"She didn’t want to fall into obscurity when she was released. She wanted to seize this moment and use it to do some kind of good," said Rose, though she added that she hopes Manning takes a step back when released this time.
"I’m personally hoping that she will take a massive step back now and focus on her own mental health, her own peace of mind, getting a center on herself in a way that hasn’t been possible with all of this media attention and traveling around the world," said Rose.
Ward said his work with Manning has illuminated his other work with whistleblowers. "They do act strangely contrary to their own interests because they feel deeply passionate about something," he said. “It’s hard to work for those people because they always do crazy things that you don’t like as an attorney, but I find it to be really powerful because there’s something about being around people who are sacrificial to an extent. I didn’t really think that existed until I was around Chelsea."
Hollander said she hopes the film is a message and an inspiration for change.
"We can all so something. It doesn’t mean everyone has to take the steps she took that were very courageous but also could have disastrous results,” she said. “But everyone can take some step toward making this a better world."