This lucid, punchy doco tells the story of Aaron Swartz, the tech genius who eschewed the rewards of Silicon Valley to become a net freedom activist and found himself targeted by the FBI.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2014
The early 21st century has conjured up a slew of internet rebels, outlaws and folk heroes. But ask those enmeshed in online activism whom they most admire and chances are they’ll pick not Kim Dotcom, nor Julian Assange, but Aaron Swartz. A precocious talent, Swartz was by his early teens instrumental in several pioneering digital projects, including RSS and Creative Commons. He became an internet millionaire at 19 when news discussion site Reddit was sold to Condé Nast, but eschewed the promise of greater riches in Silicon Valley, choosing to pour himself into initiatives promoting civic awareness, net freedom and ‘hacktivism’. In 2011, he led an extraordinary campaign that halted the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have installed censorship across the internet in the name of copyright protection. By then, however, Swartz was already being aggressively pursued by government prosecutors. He faced an array of charges relating to the downloading of millions of online journal articles from servers at MIT, and as much as 35 years in prison. He took his own life early in 2013, prompting a remarkable outpouring of grief and anger. Swartz’s short life is expertly documented by Brian Knappenberger, who combines home video, stock footage and fresh interviews to lucid and moving effect. That story is compelling in its own right. But as The Internet’s Own Boy shows, it has come to encapsulate something wider: the clash between a wired generation and what they regard as an antediluvian and unjust establishment, and authorities’ attempts to make a resounding example of individuals who threaten the status quo. — Toby Manhire