Tribeca Film Festival: XY Chelsea (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Over the last three years of running, one of my goals was to expand my film tastes. I used to avoid documentaries with a passion, but I’ve really come around on them. A key factor in that change was the discovery of subjects that I was otherwise unfamiliar with prior to the movie. In the case of XY Chelsea (2019), I knew absolutely nothing about Chelsea Manning’s story, and it is clearly one we should be aware of.

XY Chelsea takes a look at a story you may not have heard of, but you probably should know about

Manning was a soldier with access to intelligence information. She uploaded many of the files to Wikileaks and was subsequently detained and found guilty of treason. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her crimes, which was later commuted by President Obama. The film shows the challenges that Manning faced as a trans woman who believed she was doing the right thing, even if it meant breaking several laws.

There is no denying that Manning’s story is going to grab the attention of most audiences. Will they all agree with the story? No, but it’s all the more reason why it’ll click. You will likely either be horrified by some of the footage that Manning uploaded to Wikileaks, or you’ll feel that Manning is a horrible person for putting her fellow soldiers in harm’s way. Thus, the film should elicit some sort of reaction from nearly anyone.

Where director Tim Travers Hawkins film struggles are in its structure. The movie jumps around quite a bit, going back and forth in time in a way that isn’t always easy to follow. Even getting a grasp on when Manning initially uploaded the files to when she was released from prison was initially unclear. The story seems to begin in 2010 and goes on towards modern day, where Manning is trying to do some good after being released from prison. She mainly wants to push for more transparency within the government but is still dealing with repercussions from her initial actions with Wikileaks. This jumping around from the various points doesn’t seem to add anything to the story being told, but it clearly takes away from the ease of understanding.

Final thoughts…

XY Chelsea is a great example of a story that is worthy of being told. The documentary is compelling, but it suffers from its structure a bit in its length. There are parts that feel a little redundant, and could easily be trimmed. In the end, XY Chelsea earns the Decent Watch rating.

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