Julian Assange’s family to speak in Salem as he fights extradition to U.S.

Loretta Miles believes the public is entitled to the truth.

For over two decades, the owner of Salem Cinema has shown niche films that go beyond entertainment by featuring art, foreign and independent films, some political in nature. 

So when Miles learned that the family of Julian Assange wanted to come to her theater to show a film about the Australian WikiLeaks founder, she jumped at the idea.

Assange has been indicted by a federal grand jury for obtaining and publishing classified materials about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. They included records showing innocent people being imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay as well as thousands of unreported civilian casualties from the wars.

“The film centers on Julian Assange and his family’s fight against time, now with Julian’s health in a precarious position and the ongoing battle against extradition that continues,” according to Miles.

Salem Cinema will present a single showing of the 2021 documentary ITHAKA at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 14.

A subject of the documentary is Assange’s father, John Shipton, who will hold a Q&A after the Salem showing along with Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, who produced the film.

The pair are on a national tour, and Salem’s screening is the only stop in Oregon, Miles said Wednesday.

She said Salem Cinema came onto the Assange family’s radar when they connected with her friend of 25 years, who runs another theater outside of Oregon. That friend suggested they show it at Miles’ theater.

“I don’t shy away from controversial film offerings when they seem valuable,” according to Miles.

The independent arthouse theater opened on Christmas Day in 1982. Miles, the owner since 1990, said theaters like Salem Cinema can bring a city new perspectives on timely topics.

A federal grand jury indicted Assange, 51, in 2019 under the Espionage Act, charging him with obtaining and releasing classified documents nine years earlier about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Assange is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to obtain the records which were published on WikiLeaks, according to a 2019 statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. prosecutors have since accused Assange of recruiting hackers to “commit computer intrusions to benefit WikiLeaks,” according to the federal agency.

Prosecutors have argued the publication of the documents endangered citizens, though the government has not identified any deaths linked to the records’ disclosure.

Meanwhile, critics have argued Assange’s espionage charges call into question the freedom of the press.

Lawmakers from countries including the U.S., Australia, Brazil and Mexico issued open letters this week calling for Assange’s charges to be dropped. WikiLeaks has posted those letters on Twitter.

Assange has been in prison in London since he was arrested in 2019. He is appealing extradition to the U.S. where he would face the charges.

Miles said she heard from organizers of the film tour around two weeks ago.

The Salem showing of the Assange film comes just weeks after another national security breach in which classified documents emerged on social media. The records included secret information about the Russia-Ukraine war as well as Canada, China, Israel and South Korea.

Miles said the documentary is not so much about what Assange did and whether he was “ right or wrong.”

“It’s really about his family’s battle to try and get awareness that will help because his health is failing. There’s a good chance that he could die incarcerated,” she said. “Yet, the crime that he’s committed is giving us information, and the doers of the crimes that he informed us about are paying no price.”

The main subjects of the film are Assange’s father, Assange’s wife and their children.

Miles said she thought the film was heartfelt and that it was “honest in its information.”

She said she found Assange’s father, John Shipton, to be soft-spoken and thoughtful. She hopes that will make the film more palatable to people who are undecided on how they feel about Assange’s actions and want more information.

Kamil Khan, executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, will moderate the event.

Miles said she is particularly interested to hear what questions the audience has for Assange’s family after the showing.

“My Salem audience usually is pretty well informed and they ask really engaging questions,” she said.

Tickets can be bought online or in person at the theater, 1127 Broadway St. N.E. Tickets are $15.

Miles said she has been reaching out to U.S. representatives and senators inviting them to join the event. 

“I think it’s important for them to see this movie and to get the information as well, and to be able to talk and listen to Mr. Shipton,” she said. “Whether or not any of them show up remains to be seen, but I’m certainly doing the legwork trying to get them interested.”

The showing is of personal importance to Miles, who said her political perspective has been shaped in part by “a lot of unforgettable things in my lifetime.” Those include the release of the Pentagon Papers, which showed the Johnson administration lied to the public and Congress about its conduct during the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

She said Assange’s case has been of interest to her since the beginning, but far more so “now that it’s evolved into a fight regarding the freedom of the press.”

“If that’s taken away, how are we ever going to know what’s going on? To deny that there is corruption would be very naive,” she said. 

Miles said she grew up in the 50s and 60s during the Vietnam War and became aware of its rippling global impacts, relying on the press for information the public needed to know but wouldn’t otherwise be told in a straightforward manner.

“We need the truth, and somebody needs to be able to get it to us,” she said.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.