Hot Docs 2015: Deep Web – Alex Winter


Planetary may have been the most important film at the festival in terms of our species and its relation with our tender planet, but Alex Winter’s documentary, Deep Web, brings to the screen the topical, and argumentative subject of internet privacy.

The digital frontier is turning into the latest battleground, a wild west shootout, as debates over privacy, information and control are being made all over the globe. Winter’s film offers us a glimpse into this grey-shaded world, where nothing can be easily categorized into black and white, or ones and zeroes. At the center of his film is Ross Ulbricht a smart, likeable, young man who dove into the deep web, the uncharted and unknown depths of the internet, used by everyone from journalists to criminals, and those who know how to find it.

With his libertarian views and hopes, he had a hand in creating a website known as the Silk Road. On this website, almost anything and everything could be bought or sold, with the limitation being innocents could not be harmed. What sprang from it, was the largest, and arguably safest drug empire on the planet.

When the FBI, and other acronyms learned of it, they tried to go everything they could to shut it down and/or control it. And it didn’t seem to matter if they railroaded Ross into prison, by making the most tenuous of cases to suggest that he was the site’s only senior administrator, using the appropriate username, Dread Pirate Roberts – a title that could be passed down from one admin to his replacement.

There were trumped-up charges of a possible alleged murder, what could constitute an illegal search and seizure of the Silk Road’s main server, and the painting of Ross with the broad brush of a being a criminal kingpin.

What occurred sounds not only like a gross violation of Ross’ rights but also the Acronyms trying their best to get into the deep web, and the internet in general, and using this case to lay down some legal structure, and control for a frontier that we are only now beginning to truly understand.

As we stand on the cusp of a digital war, as governments all over the planet are rolling out bills and laws that would violate our digital rights and privacy, demanding access to all of our information, Ross and his family are inadvertently thrown into the center of it.

Winter has created a smart, engaging, and incredibly balanced documentary that does its best to navigate the depths of the darker corners of the internet, and presents us with a story that no matter how unrelated it seems to the casual viewer, its fallout will resonate and impact every one of us.

Deep Web screens again today at 1:20 at the Lightbox, and one final time on Thursday, 30 April at 9:00pm at the Kingsway Theatre.





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