SXSW 2012 Review: WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF HACKTIVISTS

You hear about it a few times a year: "Anonymous" road-blocked a major website, or "hackers" have made trouble for the Scientology network. If you're like me you probably think, "Wow, I'm glad these hackers don't hate me," and then perhaps, "Come to think of it, the serious hackers only seem to have it in for big-league global troublemakers, which I guess makes them a good thing." Or perhaps you think the polar opposite: that "Anonymous" and hacker efforts are nothing more than high-tech vandalism.

Either way, the new documentary We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists is something you'll want to see. Best of all, for those (like me) who knew next to nothing about "Anonymous" before he / she / they hit the newspapers, this fast-paced and surprisingly funny film will give you a quick primer on Hacking 101.

Not entirely impartial, We Are Legion does make time for the detractors of "online justice," but not nearly as much attention as it pays to the early heroes of the Anonymous movement. It's fine for a documentary to approach its subject matter with a clear and obvious "yes vote," but that forces the filmmakers to not only present their complicated topic, but make a firm argument for the "pro" position. Director Brian Knappenberger clearly believes that Hacktivism is a force for good, but you know what? He makes his case pretty darn well. I went from ignorant to informed to impressed when presented with this tight and enjoyable compendium of all the major hacking incidents of the past several years.

From the early days of taking down outspoken white supremacist sleazebags to the high-profile stories like 4Chan vs. Scientology, Hackers Invade PayPal, the horrific Playstation debacle, the infamous Wikileaks explosion, and several compelling anecdotes in between, We Are Legion may be "pro-hacker," but (again) it certainly does seem like this "legion" of "anonymous" computer wizards use their forces for the greater good. I doubt that Master Card, Playstation and Scientologists would agree, but I'd still assert that We Are Legion lays down the (very recent) hacker history in smooth and appealing fashion. It could perhaps be slightly more interesting had it included more interviews with a few hacker detractors, truth be told, but that doesn't stop what is here from being highly informative and fun to watch.

Boasting several refreshingly frank interviews with at least a dozen former and current hackers, We Are Legion would be easy enough to recommend simply for the cyber-history lessons it offers non-stop, but it also has some truly funny moments, a lot of fascinating insights that you (probably) never knew before, and a welcome tone that straddles the line between banging the drum for hacker culture and simply shining a strong spotlight on the work they've done.

You may not agree that the hackers "do good," but at least We Are Legion will give you some legitimate discussion points for the next conversation that comes up.

We Are Legion made its local premiere at SXSW on Sunday night. It screens again tonight and on Friday.

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