Making a documentary about sophisticated hackers like Anonymous, who function underground and with a fluid and leaderless composition that has gone global, may have been just one of a myriad of challenges that director Brian Knappenberger faced in assembling We Are Legion: The Story Of The Hacktivists. The strange marriage of film and cyberspace aside in this decidedly sympathetic group portrait, Knappenberger – who no, is not one of them I’m guessing, but actually a conventional director of commercials and feature films for the likes of National Geographic and the Discovery Channel – had to tackle a host of thorny sidebar issues that kicked in as well.
Including the likely compilation of under the radar testimony and interviews, and then not actually showing them, from possible fugitives already on government watch lists. And a dilemma already faced by the directors of The Central Park Five, against whom and in reaction to an unlawful imprisonment lawsuit in the works against New York City by the wrongly convicted subjects of the film, that government has already issued a subpoena demanding all the film’s outtakes.
So was Knappenberger looking over his shoulder for any authorities on espionage duty while pursuing his story, and did that cautious approach influence his rather tame take on such a volatile subject? And on the other hand, will critics out there fear giving a less than glowing appraisal of this movie, looking over their collective shoulders for peeved hackers?
A distinct possibility indeed – on the part of Knappenberger, not the film critics. Which lends a kind of wag the dog directing vibe to the proceedings, as Knappenberger seems to allow his subjects to set the agenda for the ensuing discourse. As a brainiac couch potato activism (the hacker movement we’re told, was born at MIT) somehow balloons, and morphs into the Occupy Movement and global uprisings like the Arab Spring.
Though We Are Legion limits the conversation mostly to those already outed by the system, tending to take the drama and suspense out of a subject necessarily fueled by that. While those revealed faces populating hacktivist culture may astonish as much as engage audiences, in essence a nerdy succession of vocally defiant eggheads. So no, not a single bearded guerrilla armed to the teeth in this bunch. And yes, some confessing to still living in mom’s basement.
But most provocative about We Are Legion, would have to be the online communique networking in pursuit of information liberation and global justice that precipitated the Occupy movements and Middle Eastern uprisings, admittedly here as much of a surprise to the Anonymous collaborators as viewers of this movie. While the division within the movement between those with a political thrust and others like the hackers who delighted in going after Tom Cruise because they just wanna have fun, could have benefited within this documentary from more analysis and insight.