NZIFF Review - The Internet's Own Boy
Pioneers of the internet don't come much bigger than Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit and the star of this new documentary about his short life.
But it's not the internet which is the shadiest part of this documentary - it's the US government forces who brought down Swartz and drove him to the edge as they decided to make an example of him to the masses.
Starting back with footage of when Swartz was a young prodigious and precocious talent, director Brian Knappenberger is never far from being in Swartz's corner as this sympathetic portrait is sketched out. Using home video, stock footage and interviews from family, friends and co-workers, the tale reveals a driven talent who was unhappy that Government sources were charging for access to public documents or academic journals.
Moved by that and styling himself as a guerilla (even with his own manifesto), Swartz set out to free up access for all with a series of apparently philanthropic moves that endeared him to his peers but angered those in charge. Unfortunately, he was a victim of the times as well - with 9/11 still strong in the collective memory, his actions weren't exactly welcomed - particularly his opposition to the SOPA bill.
While the doco is slickly put together, sensitively etched and grabs the zeitgeist of the digital generation against the stuffy masses (none of the Government's decisions seem to make sense), the fact that none of the opposing parties will appear on screen or issue statements make this polished piece seem a little unbalanced, through no fault of the directors at all. It does however remain an interesting insight into the digital issues faced these days and galvanises those who feel oppressed on that front - an interesting epilogue posits that Swartz's push to get medical journals freed up has led to one 14 year old making a break through in pancreatic cancer treatment.
All in all, The Internet's Own Boy is a well constructed piece, a portrait of an internet giant and a proponent for freedom for all - however idealistic and naive that may seem, you leave this feeling that Swartz was unfairly hounded - and with a lack of counter arguments, it's hard to shake that in any sense.