[EN] We are Legion, The Story of the Hacktivists

Oh Hi :)
This article’s in english, as the title says. This was actually an assignment for my Master’s degree, but since it has been marked and that I’m quite proud of it, I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy ;)

About the movie

The movie We are Legion is a documentary relating the story of the activist group “Anonymous”. The title calls back to the famous Anynymous phrase “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”. Through archive footage and interviews, the documentary gives an insight into the events that led, in 2010, to the arrest of the members of the group known as the Paypal 14, allegedly responsible for the disruption of Paypal’s operations after Wikileaks’ donations were suspended. Although the official release date in the USA is, according to IMDB1, the 30th of October 2012, the movie was screened in festivals in the USA and worldwide as early as the 20th of January 2012, which coincides with the shutdown of the media sharing website Megaupload by the FBI.
The movie has since been made available on DVD and on different online platforms, including iTunes and Netflix.

The movie was directed by Brian Knappenberger, an american director and producer, who specializes in documentaries revolving around the themes of freedom of speech and new technologies. He is the owner of Luminant Media, the company that produced the movie.

Analysis

The documentary follows a repetitive pattern, alternating interviews, archive images of, mostly, protests, and intertitles to separate the different events, in a chronological order. The film starts with the interview of Mercedes Haefer, ex-Anonymous, who introduces the movie, summarizing the events that led to her own arrest by the FBI in 2011. The different interviews took place as the various interviewees were already indicted. Some (such as the french newspaper Le Monde2) did comment on this behaviour, judging it unreasonable.

Amongst the different interviewees, we find a number of (former) Anonymous, some people of authority in their respective domains such as anthropologist Gabriella Coleman (who also worked with Knappenberger on his previous documentaries), Sociologist Stanley Cohen, and attorneys.

The entirety of the adresses in the movie are embodied, be it direct (interviews) or indirect (footage from protests). Apart from the extra-diegetic music (composed by John Dragonetti, who also worked on Knappenberger’s previous films), most of the footage is raw. The fast paced editing and multiple angle shots and zoom-ins make up for the otherwise lack in rhythm caused by the linear structure of the storytelling. There also are inserted photographic manipulations or montages, as well as computer screenshots, illustrating the film’s argument.

Interestingly, despite its DVD and online releases, the movie does not seem to have an age rating. The seriousness of the topic and the sometimes very specific language do, however, prevent children from understanding or having any interest in such a movie. Moreover, some disturbing content and the total lack of vulgarity censorship would draw concerns for showing this movie to teenagers under 16. Apart from the age, the topic of course appeals to a very specific fringe of the viewership. Indeed, There is a strong chance that this movie targets specifically people interested in sociology, new technologies, and civil disobedience. Furthermore, as the film was primarily released in festivals, it is obvious that whatever the target audience, the real public had to be interested in or at least have curiosity for the topic of the Anonymous.

This documentary falls into the category of the Participatory Mode, according to Nichols’ classification. Indeed, apart from the archive images and stills which accompany the argument, the primary source of filming material involves interviews. Nevertheless, except for a very short section near the end of the movie, we never hear the questions asked to the interviewees. This gives to their accounts a sense of spontaneity, as if they were narrating a story from the top of their heads. This also gives to the viewer a feeling of neutrality on the part of the filmmaker.

This neutrality could nevertheless be doubted, for several reasons:

  • Firstly, because the film was directed and produced by the same person. Thus, even though it escapes a potential partiality imposed by a command from a big production company, it means that the same person is responsible for the production and distribution of the content, without an intermediate to check for bias.

  • Secondly, because the team working on the documentary is small, and also the same team as on Knappenberger’s previous productions. This similarity in casting does not stop at the crew: anthropologist Gabriella Coleman had already worked with the filmmaker on another project at the time of this production.

  • The mere presence of extra-diegetic music – composed by another of Knappenberger’s usual co-workers – takes away some of the authenticity that raw sound and images produce.

  • The multiple angles of camera and editing make the viewer see through the eye of the filmmaker, and see the images the way he intends for us to receive them. Besides, this could be seen as ironical in a documentary dealing with the hack and leak of information, such as the works of the Wikileaks Foundation, which takes hounour in only providing raw and unedited documents to keep absolute authenticity and neutrality.

  • Finally, the very last scene wraps the movie with a few last words from Mercedes Haefer, the same woman who introduced the movie, on an uprising symphonic tone, and in these words: “Your opinion matters. I don’t care if I disagree with it, I don’t care if I hate your guts. Your opinion matters”. This does encourage the viewers to take a stance and speak for themselves.

Yet, the movie does not condemn nor condone the actions of the Anonymous. Despite interviewing almost exclusively (former) members of the movement, it merely shows their opinion, but never goes fully their way. More than that, it casts a critical eye over its own condition as an independent artform, whose role is to speak up for the ones who can’t. This film is not investigative journalism, but as a documentary, it has an informative function, as well as a neutrality duty.

Conclusion: my opinion of the movie

In the end, I only watched this movie because it was in my recommandations on Netflix, and that the theme piqued my curiosity. I already knew about the Anonymous’ actions, and wondered what this movie was about. Was it about giving them even more of a voice or, on the contrary, shutting them up? This movie did neither of those things. And, Actually, I didn’t enjoy it that much. Notwithstanding my earlier analysis, I found that this movie was, in fact, almost too neutral. It made me feel in the strange position of regretting it was not biased, or did not take sides. The voice that it gave to the ex-anonymous was just a chance for them to recount their story, nothing more. This made me realise that sometimes, I want to be convinced. It doesn’t matter my personal opinion; I wish this movie had tried to convince me of something. Instead, the viewer is treated with mere fact, in a sometimes repetitive matter.

It could be argued that the movie fulfils its informative role, although I’m not quite sure that someone with no knowledge of the workings of the dark places of the internet would be able to understand everything, or would not lose interest after the first half hour. And for someone who has such knowledge, this movie acts as a reminder of the Anonymous first renown acts, without adding much.

All in all, the movie does not fall into the cliché of sensationalist documentaries. The music sometimes reminds us of the one of made-for-TV shock reenactments of crime investigations, although it never strikes the melodramatic chord.

I don’t think I’ll remember the movie that much, at least not for itself. It was interesting and informative, but I, personally, did not learn that much while watching it. I fail to see who the targeted audience would exactly be. I don’t disagree with the 73% score on Rotten Tomatoes3, nor with the 66% Metascore4 review. It is not a bad movie, nothing made me cringe, be it in the execution or the presentation of the facts. It was not a good movie either, as it failed to impress me in any way. Props for the neutrality, which becomes its major quality as well as its major flaw.