Shortly after Internet sharing activist Aaron Swartz took his own life, countless messages of condolences appeared on blogs and social media mourning the loss of the open Web advocate.
Now, a full-length documentary about Swartz called “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz,” is about to be released Friday and will play at the Somerville Theatre. (A trailer is currently available online.)
The online mourning and the film focusing on Swartz is something Noah Swartz believes his brother would have been surprised by.
“I don’t think it’s something he would have expected,” Noah Swartz said. “I don’t think he thought the Internet cared about him or cared about his role in the Internet.”
Swartz helped cofound Reddit as well as the group Demand Progress and created an early version of RSS. He was 26 when he took his own life in 2013 while awaiting trial on federal charges that he allegedly stole millions of academic articles from a private database after hacking into an MIT network.
The movie was funded in part by about 1,500 people who donated more than $93,000 on a Kickstarter campaign.
Swartz’s brother, father, partner and others appear in the film and talk about him personally and about his efforts. Besides his family, those who worked with and influenced Swartz, including Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, also appear in the film. It’s a mix of sit-down interviews with those who were close to him and home movies of a young Swartz showing an early interest in and knack for computers and the Internet.
The film follows Swartz as he grows up and makes the switch from creating things for people to advocating on behalf of people.
“He made this turn, he made this decision to use his skills for public interest and public good. That’s a pretty inspiring approach,” said Brian Knappenberger, the film’s director. “I hope people walk out of the theater wondering about their skills. You don’t have to be a genius computer hacker, you know? Everyone has skills. It’s how do you put those skills into the public interest and the public good.”
The movie premiered during the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and received good reviews. It will be be shown in some theaters and will be available for download for purchase online. Knappenberger said he expects the film will be “widely, widely shared” among Internet users.
Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.