“My name is Reality Winner. I’m an airman, a veteran, and I was convicted under the Espionage Act.” With these opening lines, delivered straight to camera by Winner centered in close-up, the documentary Reality Winner establishes why it is being re-released in a revised form: Reality’s voice can now be centered in the telling of her story.
Reality Winner, directed by Sonia Kennebecker, was previously released in 2021 in an earlier form and was then titled United States vs. Reality Winner. The change in the title is telling, while it remains a clear explainer of the Espionage Act case against Winner, the film gains much of its power with the inclusion of Winner’s reflections on the ordeal. She provides her own perspective on all the stages of the case: from her choice to blow the whistle, through her arrest and trial, up until the end of multi-year imprisonment.
“Ironically enough the first thing that people forget about this story is that I am a real person,” Winner says near the end of the film. For years, she has been silenced, reduced to a symbol and a voiceless position within her own story. Reality Winner the documentary is a welcome addition to content on the case because it centers Reality Winner the person.
Some of the strongest elements of the film, however, remain those centered around not Winner but her family. Soon after her arrest, Kennebecker began covering the case and soon gained the trust and access of Winner’s parents. The documentary provides a detailed and intimate look into the resolve of Winner’s family throughout the case but also the deep emotional toll whistleblowing all too often has on a whistleblower’s family.
Another crucial element which remains from the earlier iteration of the documentary is the audio recording of the initial integration of Winner by FBI agents. Used effectively throughout the film, the audio adds the most tension and drama to a film that, while centered around State secrets and an Espionage Act case, is more focused on the quieter and less salacious elements of the story.
Another reason for the reworking and re-release of the documentary is to include Winner’s release from prison. With footage of Winner’s reunion with her family, including the first time she met her infant niece, the documentary not only ends with an emotional climax but also with a nod to the legacy the Reality Winner’s whistleblowing will have not on the nation at large, but on herself and those closest to her.
While much media attention (though arguably not enough) has been paid to Winner’s whistleblowing, the ethics and importance of leaking, and the government’s aggressive use of the Espionage Act, Reality Winner sets itself apart by focusing its attention on the person and family behind the whistleblower.
Reality Winner is currently being shown at select screenings across the country and is slated for a VOD release on October 31.