retro review: Downloaded

We live in an era of astonishing change. Often, we attribute that change to simply to technology, but technology is most significant when it serves as a lens, collecting and focusing human effort. Two paradigm examples arose during the dot.com era: Google, which deftly traces the links that we make, and harness this collective intelligence to make sense of an explosion of information, and Napster, which, by empowering people to share, created, almost instantly and out of nothing, a universal library of nearly all recorded human musical expression. It is telling that, a decade on, even the most successful centrally organized and licensed music sites are but pale reflections of Napster.

Downloaded is a documentary tells that story of Napster’s rise and fall. The filmmakers effectively leverage access to all the principals at Napster, as well as interviews with representatives music industry, artists and scholars, to which they add very judiciously selected media coverage from the ’99 and ’00. But this is not merely a collection of talking heads. It is a wealth fantastic stories: of two high school kids who really did change the world, of a generation suddenly in the possession of the entirety of a deeply emotional cultural legacy, and of an industry that when confronted by the future, responds by ignoring opportunity and suing their fans.

This film is currently available to stream on Netflix.

(In honor of #IFFBOSTON each day of the festival I’ll post a capsule review of an alumni film)

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