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Film & Discussion


Whistle­blowing Special

Preview: Reality

Wednesday, 7 February, 7:30 pm

Discussion with Annegret Falter (Whistle­blower Network), moderated by journalist Nadja Vancauwen­berghe

USA 2023, 83 min, director: Tina Satter, cast: Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis

© Grandfilm / Mickey & Mina LLC

The Plot
When 25-year-old Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney, Euphoria’s Cassie) returns from grocery shopping on the afternoon of June 3, 2017, two men are waiting outside her home. They inform her that they’re from the FBI and have a search warrant. As Reality’s small house is being taken over by Feds, the two agents engage in an audio-recorded conversation with the young woman, the transcript of which forms the basis of the film’s dialogue. What follows is a gripping chamber-drama re-enacting the interrogation of Reality Winner as she’s slowly trapped into confessing her ‘crime’.

The Film (Review)
With “Reality” director Tina Satter comes to grips with a whistle­blowing case that polarised the US seven years ago: 25-year-old Reality Winner’s leak to The Intercept of a classified NSA document about Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. Satter isn’t the only filmmaker to have been fascinated by the case. It’s already inspired one documentary (2021 *Reality Winner*) and another feature film just premiered at Sundance Film Festival last month (Susanna Fogel’s “Winner”). But what really sets “Reality” apart is its brilliant re-enactment device: by using the FBI audio-transcript as only dialogue, word for word and in real time, Satter gives her film a down-to-earth authenticity that’s absolutely poignant.

From the get-go the dissonance between the mundaneness of the FBI’s interaction with Winner and the gravity of the situation is as flagrant as it is unsettling. The casual, soft-glove approach of agents Derrick and Taylor, their neighbourly affability, the small talk centred on pet welfare and grocery practicalities are chilling, as we (together with Reality) become aware of the implacable dynamic that’s slowly ensnaring the young woman. It’s the casual menace that puts us, the viewer, on edge. We know the outcome (Winner will be arrested, and ultimately sentenced to a 63 month’s jail sentence, the longest served in the US for an unauthorised disclosure to the media), and yet it feels like a bomb is ticking — we’re some 80 minutes away from detonation; in this case no big explosion; just Winner’s impending doom at the hands of the US justice. system.

The film aptly depicts the quiet ruthlessness of state repression as it crashes the life of an average twentysomething, shared between friends, pets, CrossFit and yoga routines. Sweeney aptly embodies the lamb-like, girl-next-door ‘innocence’ of Winner, who slowly realises the implacable consequences of her action. Or does she? As the interrogation wraps up, and we realise she’ll be taken away, it’s her dog and cats she worries about. Little does she know she won’t be back and see her beloved pets for three years.

The film premiered at the 2023 Berlinale’s Panorama and earned Sydney Sweeney kudos for her first big screen lead-performance.

The Discussion: The Reality of Whistle­blowing
Miles away from big politics, state secrets and the Espionage Act under which Winner and her lots got prosecuted, “Reality“ sheds light on the mundane (and humane) realities of whistle­blowing. Beyond the Chelsae Mannings and Ed Snowdens of this world, there are the ‘everyday’ whistle­blowers whose name we never get to hear — people who jeopardise their jobs and sometimes their freedom to inform the public about wrongdoings they’ve come across. Who are they? What’s their motivation? How do they operate? Together with our guest Annegret Falter (Whistle­blower Network), we’ll also explore the ruthless consequences they face: intimidation, defamation, social exclusion and financial struggles, as they’re left to face up against powerful enemies, under a legal system that offers them little protection.

Wie immer: We rely on the power of cinema and the ideology-free space of the film theatre for a meaty and lively discussion with our guest and the public.

Annegret Falter

Annegret Falter is the chairwoman of Whistleblower-Netzwerk e.V., a Berlin-based NGO which advocates for better legal protection of whistleblowers, and offers them support and legal advice. It also acts as a watchdog, monitoring new German and European laws in relation to transparency and confidentiality, abusive activities and the “public’s right to know”. She has authored and edited many articles and publications about whistleblowing cases and their political and social impact. She was a co-founder and member of the jury of the German Whistleblower Award. Among the winners are Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden (2013). Falter is a member of the German Science Journalists Association (WPK), a trustee of the charity WIN (Whistleblowing International Network) and member of the lawyers’ asso­ciation IALANA advisory board.

exBlicks – A Monthly Film & Chat Series in English.
Watch German and foreign films and meet our special guests in a real Kiez Kino!
All screenings are with English subtitles and followed by a lively conversation with the audi­ence – and a customary glass of wine in the foyer!
The series is curated and hosted by Nadja Vancauwen­berghe.

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