The last few years have seen a real boom in the prominence of high-quality feature-length documentary film-making about tech and web topics, some of which is absolutely essential viewing for anyone interested in how these aspects of our lives work.
Aided by new online channels for distribution, this specialist content is increasingly finding its way to sizable audiences and represents a fantastic means by which we can all learn a bit more about the world through the prism of web and tech matters.
Below is a rundown of my top 5 web and tech documentaries from the past few years for anyone curious to learn something new or think differently about the world (of technology):
1. Indie Game: The Movie
A fascinating look at the life of the independent game developer, this film follows numerous indie game creators as they endure the ups and downs of working solo on projects they love in the age of the video game blockbuster. Several of the indie games featured actually go on to become hugely successful so it’s quite possible that you may already have heard of some of them (Fez, Braid, and Super Meat Boy are the main ones featured).
The film is great for giving viewers a wonderful insight into the passion and commitment of these maverick developers who often shun mainstream game development opportunities in order to work on hugely personal projects, hoping to create something genuinely different and innovative from the mass of modern commercialized blockbuster gaming. These people truly believe in the video game as an art form and seek to create a labour of love rather than a product; it is absolutely gripping to spend a couple of hours looking at the world of gaming through their eyes.
2. We are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists
Another excellent documentary highlighting a fascinating aspect of the online world which is often both hidden and confusing for many people: the Anonymous hacktivist collective who have regularly made the news in recent years with audacious politically-motivated hacking operations that have sometimes crippled governments and corporations.
The documentary is amazing for providing a great introduction to the political aspects of the web – how it is managed and designed; how it can become a forum for dissent and struggle; and how the offline and online worlds interact and are intertwined. If you want to understand the news in the age of cyber-warfare and digital economies, We are Legion is a great starting point.
3. Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy
An excellent BBC documentary exploring the iconic figurehead of one of the most influential corporations in the world, covering both the early and difficult days of Apple and more recent successes. Ideal for those who maybe don’t have time for the official biography but nonetheless fancy learning a bit more about the man behind the most successful tech products of the last decade.
Being ultimately about social networking (and Facebook specifically), this film even enjoyed some limited theatrical distribution in cinemas across the UK. A very intriguing documentary which blurred the lines between fact and fiction, probing at the gaps between our online and offline selves to examines a particularly bizarre story of about loneliness, the human need to connect and build relationships, and the potential for confusion and deceit that comes with online relationships.
5. Connected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology
An ambitious documentary that looks at one of the more worrying aspects of how gadgets and the web have infiltrated our lives: tech addiction. Presented in a highly autobiographical manner, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain uses her own smartphone and web addiction as a means through which to examine the vital questions about how much technology is too much and whether the hyper-connected manner of our modern lives is actually having a seriously detrimental effect on how we relate to ourselves and each-other.