He took his own life in January 2013 aged 26, but computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz left behind an enduring legacy – one that documentarian Brian Knappenberger explores in moving, if sometimes hagiographic, detail. After a news report announcing Swartz’s death, the film flashes back to his all-smiles childhood, chronicling his rise from boy genius to rabble-rousing MIT student and internet entrepreneur.
Swartz was an architect of the web-feed format RSS, as well as a major figure in the battle to stop the US Congress from passing the Stop Online Piracy Act. He was out to prove a point about how freedom of information was being restricted by the powers that be, but it got him into a world of trouble.
Knappenberger gives his doc the queasy air of a thriller in which the noose is ever tightening and a tragic outcome is inevitable. Swartz, unfortunately, comes out of it more martyr than human being, though the film’s devotional nature is probably unavoidable since none of his antagonists, such as dogged prosecutor Stephen Heymann, agreed to participate. They probably would look insensitive given the one-sided slant: this is a movie that preaches to its rafters-raising choir.