‘The Internet’s Own Boy’: Brian Knappenberger Chronicles Tragedy Of Web Activist Aaron Swartz

Daniel Eagan | Film Journal | June 20, 2014

When Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013, he was facing a possible 35-year prison sentence and a million-dollar fine. Federal prosecutors had targeted him for using an MIT computer network to download 4.7 million documents from the JSTOR database.  Documentarian Brian Knappenberger was attending a digital activist conference when the news came out. Within a week he started shooting interviews, unsure at first if he had enough material for a feature movie. It wasn't until he spoke to Swartz's father Brian that he decided to continue The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. The Participant Media release opens in theaters on June 27.

"What struck me about the story was that it had been going on for two years, almost to the day, before Aaron killed himself," Knappenberger says. "And yet it didn't get a lot of press. When I spoke with his father, a very poignant conversation, I felt there was more about Aaron to tell."  A computer prodigy, Swartz won a trip to MIT when he was 13 for a website he put together. At 16, he began working on Creative Commons, a nonprofit copyright licensing organization. He was one of the creators of Reddit, and built the architecture for OpenLibrary.org...