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Hot Docs: Technological Revolution, ‘Total Disruption,’ Stolen Privacy

Hot Docs: Technological Revolution, 'Total Disruption,' Stolen Privacy

“Isn’t it ironic that I’m having all these technical problems when I’m supposed to be talking about technology?” director Ondi Timoner asked a very patient (for awhile) Hot Docs audience Monday. Well, yeah, but it’s hardly the only irony that’s been on display here in Toronto.

Just as Hot Docs prepares to break its own attendance records, Canada’s federal George W. Bush impersonators have been cutting doc funding to the CBC, Telefilm and the National Film Board of Canada (prompting sit-ins in Montreal and filmmaker Kevin McMahon, in the National Post, to make a case for the documentary as Canada’s official art form. Maybe then it would get as much respect as, say, lacrosse). The NFB, at the same time, has been allowing its attention to be diverted toward transmedia projects, rather than traditional film, which is symptomatic of officialdom’s desperate-seeming effort to be hip.

Then there’s the likable Timoner, who’s won the top Sundance doc prize twice (for “Dig!” and “We Live In Public”) and was supposed to be delivering the Hot Docs keynote address to a just-about-packed house about the state of internet technology and its influence on doc-making. As advertised, Timoner would draw “on her research into how innovators in technology and business are permanently transforming our lives as well as her own experience as a content creator in this rapidly evolving landscape, to address what this means for the media industries.” In a talk titled “Total Disruption,” Timoner would address the “revolution taking place on millions of screens.”

To a crowd that had clearly come to hear some news they could use, the most trenchant observation coming for Timoner was that they all live in a time when they might as well forget about their rights as artists. “If you don’t give it away, it’s stolen anyway.”

Timoner is smart and talented, and like many who would presume to explain the current media landscape, a hustler; she can’t explain it, because at the moment it can’t be explained, even though some obvious and awful things are happening — as was in fact explained the day before, with horrifying clarity, by one of those pieces of “old media” that everyone but audiences seems to want to run away from. How ironic.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” is Cullen Hoback’s exploration of everything from the fine print on an iTunes user agreement to the National Security Agency’s surveillance of the American public (which Canadians shouldn’t feel too smug about). No one reads the fine print on all those seemingly boiler-plate forms that accompany virtually everything you want to use on-line; one of the better-known stories, repeated in “Terms” concerns the British firm GameStation and its inclusion of a clause in which users agreed to forfeit their immortal souls. Seven thousand souls were collected before the company took the clause out.

By the way, irony seekers: Here’s Hot Docs’ user agreement. “Terms and Conditions” will make anyone reconsider how they use the internet, post personal info on Facebook and otherwise expose themselves to government intrusion. The film includes real-life stories of people being stopped at Customs for tweets, and being visited by SWAT teams for frivolous Facebook posts. It makes the revolutionary suggestion that it may be too late for people to choose whether to give their privacy away on line. Because it might be stolen anyway.

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