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Doc/Fest: The Internet’s Own Boy | The Clapper Bored

Doc/Fest: The Internet’s Own Boy

The Internet’s Own Boy tells the horrific story of Aaron Swartz, a tech-wizard who, during his prosecution for hacking the academic resource site JSTOR, took his own life. It’s an intensely personal tale of the dangers of the internet, and, conversely, the problems of over-regulation; but, equally, it’s also a cautionary tale about sensitivity, innovation and the humans behind the computers.

Director Brian Knappenberger clearly has real empathy for his subject, and that comes through most clearly when the film narrows its focus on Aaron. Adorable home footage is mixed with the heartbreaking (and often funny) recollections of Aaron’s family and friends. That’s where the film is most successful – it loses traction somewhat when the material becomes broader (encompassing solo documentary worthy things like Wikileaks, Anonymous and SOPA), as the story dictates it must. But unlike many ‘tech-docs’ Knappenberger holds the focus on the Shakespearean rise and fall of an internet genius, and the result is a compelling and affecting movie.

The Internet’s Own Boy is one of the ‘big’ documentaries at Doc/Fest this year. It has broad appeal and will undoubtedly end up in some theatres and, probably, on Netflix. But it manages to avoid the implicit tackiness of that judgement (apologies other docs). Swartz’s life was so brief but eventful that though the film rattles along, until the fateful events at MIT, the depiction remains colourful and angry, rather than cursory and synoptic.

Swartz himself may not have wanted to address the issues of open access, but Knappenberger’s film tackles them head on: this is a film with a loud and clear set of beliefs, and a rich contribution to a conversation we should all be having.

internet
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Title: The Internet's Own Boy
Director: Brian Knappenberger
Running Time: Not that long, maybe 100 mins

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