Milwaukee Film Festival - We Are Legion and The Imposter - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Milwaukee Film Festival – We Are Legion and The Imposter

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We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (3/5)

We Are Legion relates in broad strokes the history of the hacker group Anonymous, from its origin in internet forums and meme-drenched subcultures to its current somewhat undefined status as an activist group. As a documentary, it bites off a little more than it can chew, seeking to provide a context for how Anonymous eventually emerged as a distinct organization, explore its effects on and roles in various social movements, articulate its ever-changing core philosophy, and examine the legal responses to its actions.

I'd have gotten more out of it if the filmmaker, Brian Knappenberger, had chosen one of these elements to explore more in-depth. Some of the most interesting moments are when he suggests the group had a formative role in the Arab Spring, or when he touches on the formation of LulzSec, which sprung out of Anonymous and caused division throughout the group for causing chaos and privacy breeches across the web for no morally or politically motivated reasons. The film contains a number of interviews with individuals involved in various stages of the group's many more well-known actions, but likewise doesn't dig much deeper in any of these discussions than some basic details. It's nonetheless an interesting and somewhat engaging condensed overview of a group that many have heard of but few probably know much about.

The Imposter (5/5)

The Imposter is a spellbinding documentary about a true story so unbelievable that even when they started playing home video footage and news clips about the real events, a small part of me was convinced it would turn out to be a hoax. In 1997, a 23-year-old French man named Frédéric Bourdin convinced authorities in Spain and an American family living in Texas that he was their missing son who had disappeared 3 years prior. Despite the obvious age difference (the missing boy would have been 16 in 1997), the fact that Bourdin could not speak English without an accent, and even the fact that he had different-colored eyes, the family believed him to be their son, and authorities granted him a passport to return “home.” How Bourdin managed to pull off the con is interesting in terms of his pure, bold ingenuity, and at first the film seems to be about the power that grief and wanting to believe in such an illusion held over the family. But what's so astonishing about The Imposter is how the story evolves, and what the filmmakers (and Bourdin) ultimately uncover that throws the family's almost unbelievable willingness to go along with his act into a startling and uneasy new light.

Cut together using more cinematic techniques than one typically finds in a documentary, Bart Layton, the director, uses music, reenactments, clever editing, and a narrative structure that cause the film to play like fiction at times, which is a fitting approach for the subject matter. The result is exhilarating—a documentary that hurtles forward with the full force of the best narratives, filled with characters that are more complex than they at first seem, and a story that reels in the audience with the same level of this-can't-be-true-but-it-is boldness that Bourdin embodies. I gave it a 5 out of 5 on the sheer force of storytelling, and due to the fact that I was completely unmoored when the movie ended and the lights came back on—however, I'm curious, knowing now what the whole story entails, how it will hold up to a second viewing. In embracing a bold cinematic style like he does, Layton seems to play fast and loose with the implicit rules regarding how a documentary presents reality, and there are certain revelations that may be treated with less journalistic scrutiny than they should have been. It's possible Layton and his team pull one over a bit on the audience toward the end—actually, I suppose even if that's the case, it's fitting.

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Posted by Andrew

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