A documentary film about Chelsea Manning, the transgender Army private convicted and imprisoned for leaking classified national security documents, is being shopped around at this week’s Cannes Film Festival.
Director Tim Travers Hawkins announced XY Chelsea at the France-based film festival Wednesday, just as Manning was being released early from a maximum-security military prison seven years into a 35-year sentence.
“I knew when I began making this film it was likely that I would never be able to film Chelsea directly,” Hawkins told ABC News. “Chelsea herself said to me that she was ‘a documentary-makers worst nightmare’. But I felt the fact that Chelsea was invisible to us made it even more important to get her voice and her story out into the world.”
In July 2010, Manning was arrested for releasing more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. In 2013, a military tribunal found Manning guilty of violating the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts and sentenced the Army private to 35 years in prison. That sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama on Jan. 17, 2017 to time served plus 120 days.
“When I first wrote to Chelsea at the military prison in Kansas, she could not be filmed, nor could I communicate with her in any way other than through letters,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Regardless, I believed it was imperative to find a creative way to engage with her life and story. Now, with Chelsea emerging from confinement, the journey of this film has reached its most historic and exciting moment.”
Filming will commence with Manning’s departure from Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, according to a press release.
Hawkins said he was forced to correspond with Manning through written letters, which helped facilitate the filming process.
“Chelsea was sending me extracts of her intimate diary from prison, through which she offered me a fascinating sense of her life inside Fort Leavenworth military prison,” Hawkins explained. “Through the diaries we developed a range of compelling visuals to bring her words to life.”
“I also filmed a small group of individuals who were part of Chelsea’s legal and support team. Their struggle to get her out of prison, against all the odds, is a huge part of the story of the documentary,” Hawkins added.
Pulse Films CEO Thomas Benski, who co-produced the film, said the project is “important” to his company.
“I have always held the conviction that we as filmmakers should use all of the tools available to us to tell stories that can too often be buried or misrepresented,” Benski said in a statement. “This film has been so important to us here at Pulse, as it represents a completely unique way to help give a voice to an important figure denied one.”
London-based Pulse Films and Oscar-winner Laura Poitras (Citizenfour, Risk) are producing the film, which is being co-financed by the British Film Institute (BFI) and First Look Media’s Topic & Field of Vision.