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9 tech documentaries to geek out to in the next few months

A good documentary is a powerful thing. Think about what David Attenborough-narrated documentaries have done for wildlife and what films like Zeitgeist have done for conspiracy nuts. As is the case with many of us, the world’s biggest tech companies are growing up. For them that means behaving more like real businesses. For the rest of us, that means questioning their practices as they do so and no longer accepting that they’re just an output for awesome products.

This year looks like it could be quite a strong one in that regard when it comes to tech documentaries. Outside of the serious and interrogative films coming out this year however, there also seems to be a decent crop exploring the more whimsical side of tech.

Memeburn’s assembled a list of some of the most interesting ones soon to appear on a screen near you (what kind of screen is up to you really). Some have already debuted at festivals, others are set to in the next few months. Still others don’t yet have firm release dates. All of them however have 2013 release dates (at least that’s what IMDB tells us). So go on and savour a sneak peek at the knowledge the rest of 2013’s going to drop on you.

1. Downloaded

Downloaded is a fairly straightforward telling of how Napster went from dorm room project to the most talked about music-sharing service on the planet.The film is set to début at SxSW and by the looks of things director Alex Winter was fairly gentle on Napster founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. There’s plenty of late nineties geek nostalgia and, of course, footage of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich decrying the service in his role as spokesperson for all musicians everywhere.

2. Google and the World Brain

This doccie’s site calls it “the most ambitious project ever conceived on the internet”. It focuses on the internet giant’s attempts plans to scan every book in existence as well as the people trying to stop it. In digitizing the world’s library Google obtained the exclusive right to sell scans of all the out-of-print, but in-copyright books. In the minds of some, that would put serious aspersions on its “Don’t be Evil” motto. If you’re at all interested in Google, books and the possible implications of a single access point to all knowledge then this looks worth a watch.

3. 99% — The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film

When the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement first began, it wasn’t so much a movement as a group of a couple hundred people who had sent tweets out declaring 17 September to be the day that protesters would “occupy Wall Street” and stage demonstrations in Zuccotti Park, a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. From there it became a global movement.

This collaborative film uses footage from multiple cameras taken at Occupy protests across the US. The film’s makers claim that it is “modelled on Occupy’s process”. “99%” looks like it has the potential to be a seriously interesting look at the “Occupy” phenomenon.

4. TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard

If Napster brought file-sharing to the world’s attention, The Pirate Bay gave it an air of roguish legitimacy. TPB AFK picks up the file-sharing network’s story just before its founders faced US$13-million in damage claims to Hollywood in a copyright infringement case. Get an insight into how Hollywood tried to shut down the world’s most famous file-sharing network and failed.

5. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Even the staunchest Wikileaks supporter will admit that founder Julian Assange cuts a controversial figure, but if you’re looking for an in-depth portrait of the man We Steal Secrets isn’t the documentary for you. The film, which premièred at Sundance, explores the trials and tribulations of the site and related themes such as freedom of information. Relatively little however is revealed about Assange.

That hasn’t stopped Wikileaks and Assange from distancing themselves from the project. Still at least it hasn’t come in for the same kind of vitriol as the upcoming feature film The Fifth Estate. Assange has called that a “massive propaganda attack“.

6. From Bedrooms to Billions

While gamers in the US and Japan were spending their days holed up in arcades, playing Space Invaders, it seems the Brits were coding their own games. A lucky few made it big and became billionaires, setting the mould for the gaming industry for years to come.

7. Beyond the Game

Speaking of arcades… Beyond the Game explores how the arcade and gaming culture has evolved over the past few years. The film includes footage from arcade competitions, shows DJs using Gameboys and other vintage gaming equipment to make music and a pretty awesome-looking arcade bar. Geeks everywhere will watch this one with envy writ large across their faces.

While film did screen at the Magfest conference earlier this month, it apparently wasn’t the final cut. No word yet on when that’ll début but it’s bound to be fun when it does.

8. My Other Me: A Film About Cosplayers

Okay, it might not strictly be tech but cosplaying exists on the same plane of geekery as modding your toilet with a Raspberry Pi so that it tweets every time you flush. It’s also worth bearing in mind that without the internet and social media in particular, it would be a hell of a lot more difficult for this vibrant group of people who just want to dress up to get together and express themselves. Look out for loads of Japanese anime characters and people dressing up as their favourite game characters (including the ‘L’ block from Tetris).

9. Terms and Conditions May Apply

Anyone who’s spent a little time on social media is probably familiar with a cartoon of two pigs talking about how awesome it is that they get to stay in a barn and are given free food. It’s frequently accompanied by a tagline something along the lines of: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you are the product being sold”. That’s pretty much what Terms and Conditions May Apply explores.

The film, which also premièred at Sundance, examines the cost of so-called ‘free’ services and the continuing disappearance of online privacy. Ever wondered what the real consequences of clicking “I Agree” on those pesky terms and conditions are? Watch this expose and find out. Check out the trailer over on Vimeo.

Author | Stuart Thomas

Stuart Thomas
Stuart is the editor-in-chief of Engage Me Online. After pursuing an MA in South African literature, he spent five years reporting on the global technology scene. Intrigued by the intersection of technology and work, he joined Engage Me as the editor-in-chief. He is a passionate runner, and recently ran... More

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