Behind every leak, scandal, or negligence you may have read in the media is a whistle-blower. Normally someone on the inside that sees something being obscured from the public, and sees it as their duty to expose. Historically, the public haven’t always been kind to those that reveal an ugly truth, and this piece talks to three whistle-blowers at the centre of some of the biggest stories of the 21st Century. We hear the stories of former British intelligence employee Katharine Gun, who exposed mistruths surrounding the invasion of Iraq; former aid worker Helen Evans, who put a focus on Oxfam’s lack of action over sexual extortion in their ranks; and Hollywood actress Rose McGowan, one of the key figures of the Harvey Weinstein allegations that put the #MeToo movement in the spotlight.
Three women speak truth to power in a film that takes on far too much at once. The Weinstein Scandal alone was enough to fill a whole film, and so when three pivotal journeys are crammed into just 77 minutes, it feels like bullet points rather than a deep dive. Everything the film is saying it true – the ‘what’ is powerful, but the ‘why’ is only brushed over. Attempting to chronicle the events, the abuse, their feelings, gender discrepancy, and the aftermath should have been a subject for a short series. Scattershot editing and, one suspects, differing level of access also give the piece a sense of piecing together a hundred different themes at once.
When focused, the film has some interesting points about how we view whistle-blowers. Evans talks of abuse from former colleagues who felt she had sullied their work, while interestingly Gun describes her frustration at the government not contesting her claims, and simply sweeping her case under the carpet. We also see where they are now, having all physically moved to find peace. Few documentaries analyse what happens when the furore stops, and the whistle-blowers are left to process their ordeal. Can there ever be victory when you shine a light on wrongdoing? McGowan recalls being described as “lying down on barbed wire so the rest of us can walk”. While her testimony is brief in comparison to the other women involved, lines like that capture the mood.
When We Speak has aspirations that seem too complex for the running time. However, given the effects of all these scandals continue to be felt, it is a conversation it is right to continue.
When We Speak premieres at the 30th Raindance Film Festival.