Web follows in the growing documentary tradition of films that illustrate the might of a modern tool.
Shane Cubis

25 Feb 2016 - 10:55 AM  UPDATED 3 Mar 2016 - 11:40 AM

1. Web (2013)

A year spent in the most remote villages in the Amazon and Peru doesn’t sound like the best recipe for a documentary about the Internet, but that’s exactly what filmmaker Michael Kleiman has done with Web. He followed the One Laptop per Child initiative – an NGO that brings all that connectivity we take for granted to the world’s least plugged-in youth. Web captures their first interactions with Googling, watching old film clips on YouTube and realising how much information is on Wikipedia. It’s an engrossing exploration of the Net as an agent of positive and negative change.

Watch Web right now on SBS On Demand:

2. Catfish (2010)

Setting the scene for the hazards of love in the digital age, this doco follows Nev Schulman’s online relationship with a girl he met on Facebook and his quest to uncover her true identity. The results are intriguing, funny and upsetting in equal measure. “Catfishing” is a common term now – there’s even a TV series about it – but this is where it all started. The power of the Internet to conceal your identity or manipulate others is captured with raw authenticity.

3. High Tech, Low Life (2012)

This doco follows the journey of two Chinese bloggers, veggie-seller “Zola” and ex-businessman “Tiger Temple”, as they travel the country reporting on government-censored news stories and the downside of booming economic growth. Combine the ability to share political views and raise awareness online with an unprecedented volume of information leakage and the organising power of social media, and this kind of citizen-led reporting can be literally revolutionary.

4. The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin (2014)

Initially, director Nicholas Mross was making a film about his brother, a “miner” in the new and little understood world of Bitcoin currency. But along the way, his film shows the socio-political effect of the first open-source digital currency. Following the rise of Bitcoin over its first year, Mross chats to start-ups, tech companies and entrepreneurs all looking to make a killing and change the world’s financial climate. Bitcoin hasn’t changed our day-to-day lives, but this doco reveals the untapped potential of a truly global currency.


5. Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

This revealing and, at times, shocking film explores the world of amateur online porn. Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus follow a range of 18-20-something girls as they debut in adult films and experience the harsh realities of the people who are actually making the profits. Based in the home and headquarters of Hussie Models, run by pro-amateur porn agent Riley Reynolds, this gritty film is filled with emotional moments and insight into a normally hidden business.

6. We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2012)

If you know anything about online culture, you’ve probably heard of the hacker group Anonymous. This doco takes on the tricky task of covering their inner workings and beliefs, which is no easy job given how diverse and, well, anonymous the loose online collective is. You’ll also get a good grounding in their history and some of the major operations they’ve hatched over the years. Bring a Guy Fawkes mask.

Watch We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists on Thursday, 10 March at 9:30pm (AEDT) on SBS 2.

7. Craigslist Joe (2012)

Craigslist is America’s online classifieds, a place where you can find anything from weird sex to a second-hand car. One man, Joe Garner, spent a whole month living on the kindness of strangers – a new mobile, no money, no contact with friends and family. Does the nation still have a strong sense of community and charity in the Internet age? Is the fact he brings his own toothbrush cheating?

Watch the whole thing right here, courtesy of SBS On Demand:

8. TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay - Away from Keyboard (2013)

Media-sharing site The Pirate Bay has changed the way a lot of people (especially, *ahem*, Aussies) consume film and television. Which means it’s also been a massive target for media companies looking to protect their intellectual property. This crowdfunded doco follows the three founders of The Pirate Bay – Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm – as they face off against establishment forces.

Watch TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay - Away from Keyboard on Thursday, 17 March at 9:30pm (AEDT) on SBS 2.

9. The Thread (2015)

The Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 changed the way US communities ran an old-fashioned manhunt. The full power of new media sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed was brought to bear on the villains behind the bombing, resulting in false identifications and an atmosphere of trial by social media. In addition to shedding new light on how these networks operate, it provides a fascinating – and occasionally cringeworthy – insight into the online mob mentality.

Watch The Thread on Thursday, 3 March at 9:30pm (AEDT) on SBS 2.