directed by Brian Knappenberger
A while ago I heard about this documentary few people knew of and finally last night I decided it was time to stay in and watch it. The documentary take the viewer through the life of young and restless genius Aaron Swartz. I mean not to spoiler here but since it is a true story it’s fine. The movie opens with a reflection on unjust laws. Swartz refused to obey unjust laws by choosing to transgress them and signing his death sentence in a case that can be labelled essentially as a state crime. Facing up to 35 years of jail time for downloading academic papers and totally destroyed with the fear of being considered a felon, 26 yo Aaron committed suicide in 2013. And the world lost of one of his most brilliant sons.
INFORMATION is Power
I felt really bad while sitting thru the tale of this inspiring young protestor, a dreamer. After watching this feature you may probably feel enraged and mad but also hopeful because out there there is really someone that still care not only about himself. I felt bad because I did not know much about the existence of Aaron and everything he has done for contemporary society. What he has done was so meaningful and I feel like not many actually know anything about him except maybe the fact that he was one of the most prominent hacktivist ever lived. The documentary is often heartfelt as it offers segments of interviews with Aaron’s two siblings, as well as with two important women in his sentimental life, with brilliant creative companions and with the inventor of Internet himself (or better the inventor of the World Wide Web: Sir Tim-Berners-Lee).
All the interviews sewed together with the original family footage build an extraordinary feature that explores Aaron’s life from his childhood to the early discover of love towards an Apple computer. The boy had always been perfectionist, utterly curious and very critic (he also clashed with the school as a system because being a super clever outcast he would not fully understand the logics behind some way of teaching and he totally disliked attending classes). Around the age of 12 he basically invented the concept of a collective encyclopedia that could be updated by its users. He created Wikipedia five years before the portal arrived online and he took part in basically all the most important groundbreaking inventions in internet from RSS to Creative Commons, Open Library among the others. I was in shock learning that he was not involved in the invention of Facebook but as I was learning more about his life I understood why.
Aaron was not at all interested in moneymaking, at least not the big figures or anything like that even though one of his brilliant ideas was bought by Conde Nast for a $1M when he still was in college. What was really bothering him somehow was the state of the flow of information online. At the University he realized that basically all the valuable human knowledge is detained on big corporations’ private servers that make millions in revenues every year from subscriptions. All this profit for something that should be accessible and free to everyone, as information must be a right and not a privilege. All the academic papers ever published are often not accessible or when they are you need a credit card to buy the document (and the author is often not receiving a penny). For this reason he addressed a unprecedent attack to Jstor (maybe the most famous worldwide portal for scholars looking for papers) in order to make copies of all this materials with the intention of making it freely available for the whole internet community.
By doing this he lured the attention of FBI (once they found out he was secretly using MIT machines for this attack) and he ended up in a spiral of endless trials. Eventually he was facing long jail time as the State was trying to make an example out of him to scare off all the hackers out there.
The last part of the documentary is pretty sad and mostly because shows how some big institutions were reluctant to help Aaron (MIT shame on you), they often preferred to hide behind neutrality which in this case played out as being complicit for a state crime. They chose to be on the wrong side of history . In the last segment the documentary also collects footage of Aaron’s tv apparitions as he was playing a key role in derailing congressional support for the SOPA. At least this battle was won. Aaron would rather being responsible for a small change instead of being a small part in a big change.
He showed an incredible amount of passion as he was striving for the freedom of speech and the open access to information as vital human rights. I liked how the documentary deepened into Aaron’s life, both as human and as a genius individual, still maintaining a focus on narration and avoided indulging on sad aspects. All the people interviewed shows affection, positivity and openness as they were recalling their experience with Aaron.
I think each one of us has to watch this documentary because we need to reflect on this life and the impact it had on the world we live in and because this film is definitely prize worthy material for next award season being a very touching true story of an idealist and a boy with a dream for a better world.
The movie is on Youtube.