Black Code

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Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Black Code
"Cinematographer-turned-documentarian de Pencier has an eye for a good image but less of an ear for consistent argument."

Donald Trump’s presidency and the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election have shone a spotlight on issues of hacking, a subject that has gained prominence in the public consciousness since whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked evidence of US global surveillance back in 2013. All of which means that Nicholas de Pencier’s documentary – based on Ronald J Deibert’s book of the same name – is most certainly timely.

Deibert, who features prominently here, is a Canadian professor and director of Toronto University’s Citizen Lab, which studies, among other things, the impact of IT surveillance, malware and manipulation of social media on human rights. This is a big issue and de Pencier takes on a lot, trying to highlight the way that streaming and the democracy of the internet have been a boon for citizen journalists in places such as Syria at the same time as being a route by which they can be targeted by government.

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While there is plenty of information here, such as details of GhostNet - a spy ring bizarrely cracked open by Citizen Lab by a simple Google check - or the lengths Tibetan activists have to go to in order to protect themselves from persecution over messages they send over social media, the scattergun approach is frustrating. One minute we’re with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, the next we’re looking at the way police were held to account in Rio De Jainero, Brazil.

Cinematographer-turned-documentarian de Pencier has an eye for a good image but less of an ear for consistent argument. In trying to be even-handed about the way the material is presented – showing the way social media can lead to hate campaigns, for example, at the same time as showing how it can also lead to exoneration – his film never quite pulls its ideas into sharp enough focus. It serves as a primer and cautionary tale to be careful with your personal information but lacks the emotion or bite of similarly themed documentaries such as Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World and City Of Ghosts.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2017
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Examining the human rights pros and cons of the internet in terms of citizen journalism and global surveillance.

Director: Nicholas de Pencier

Starring: Felipe Altenfeldor, Ron Deibert, Wjd Dhnie, Jon Karlung, Felipe Pecanha

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada

Festivals:

Human Rights 2017

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