June 2014

SF DocFest’s Internet’s Own Boy a Heartbreaking Suicide Story

Lori Higa

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, in its West Coast premiere at the 13th annual SF Documentary Film Festival, is arguably the most important movie of the decade on the government’s draconian approach to cyber crime and its unspeakably tragic results.

Blending home movies with video clips and interviews with family, friends, and intimates, documentarian Brian Knappenberger’s Kickstarter-funded superlative film traces the remarkable story of computer prodigy and Internet activist Aaron Swartz. 

From a precocious childhood Swartz became an Internet pioneer and social justice activist. After selling Reddit – the popular social media website he co-founded – Swartz found himself living and working in San Francisco, commuting by bicycle to Condé Nast’s South-of-Market headquarters. Disillusioned by corporate life, Swartz dived into grassroots political advocacy, leading the successful charge to stop proposed federal legislation that would severely curtail freedom of speech on the Internet. He also founded social justice website DemandProgress. 

Indicted on multiple federal charges for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the 26-year-old faced 35 years in prison for allegedly downloading a trove of publicly available academic articles using a network at MIT, where he worked. Swartz killed himself before his case went to trial. 

No matter how one feels about the impact of technology, Internet’s Own Boy is a powerful film that’ll cause you to weep while raising disturbing questions about our justice system and its inability to tell the difference between those who commit crimes that actually cause harm and those fighting for civil liberties both online and off. Advocates are trying to change the CFAA with “Aaron’s Law,” proposed legislation currently on hold on Capitol Hill. 

Other films in SF DocFest featuring people and places from the Mission, Bernal Heights, Visitacion Valley, Alamo Square, and Nob Hill, are Ahh...San Francisco, The Crossmaker, Pistols to Porn, True Son, Demolition Troll, Jingle Bell Rock, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Eco-Sexual Love Story and Sunnydale Kids

The festival runs June 5 through June 19 in San Francisco and Oakland. Tickets are $12; passes from $55 to $180 and $10 to $15 for related parties and events. For more information: sfindie.com or 552.5580. Internet’s Own Boy opens July 4 in theatres.

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