Sydney Underground Film Festival Review: Killswitch (USA, 2014)

The documentary, Killswitch makes some interesting points in support of whistle-blowers and hacktivists like Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden. That is that their only real crime is that they’ve out-smarted you. Killswitch is an unoriginal but interesting film about the battleground that is the Internet, which describes how our rights to free speech and privacy are becoming eroded.

This film is by director, Ali Akbarzadeh. The team conducted upwards of 25 different interviews but instead it focuses on three main voices to tell the stories of two of the most important individuals in the Internet age. Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, Peter Ludlow, Harvard University’s Professor of Law, Lawrence Lessig and Tim Wu, Professor of Law at Columbia come together to tell the stories of Swartz and Snowden.

While Killswitch raises some interesting points, it is by no means comprehensive or balanced. The focus on Snowden and Swartz was an effort to humanise the tale, especially because these individuals scarified so much for their act. But this also means some important aspects are overlooked (case in point: Chelsea Manning and Anonymous, to name just two).

This documentary is well-paced and it uses a lot of found footage but the soundtrack is very heavy-handed at times. The filmmakers go into some detail about Swartz’s work in creating RSS, Reddit and Creative Commons before he caused controversy by hacking into JStor (which saw him facing some 35 years in prison). This is all covered in greater depth and told in a better way in the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy. There is also interview footage from Edward Snowden’s appearance in Laura Poitras’ award-winning documentary, Citizenfour. In Killswitch Snowden is not humanised like he is in Citizenfour although his story about working for America’s National Security Agency is offered.

Killswitch poses a lot of interesting points but it is not the most original film in terms of format or even content. The take-home message is strong enough and says that we need to stand up for internet neutrality to prevent the beast from being controlled or monopolised by governments and corporations who use our “safety” as an excuse. In all, this is an entertaining and enlightening look at an important issue that should leave people asking a number of different questions.

Review score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Killswitch will screen at Sydney Underground Film Festival on September 18th and 19th. For more information and tickets visit: http://suff.com.au/schedule/killswitch/