Documentaries have become a dime a dozen over the last few years; the increased availability of technology, a growing acceptance of low production values and the myriad subjects that are out there to be investigates making it the genre of choice for many filmmakers. It’s only the very best of them, however, that either introduce their audiences to something new or revisit something familiar in an original, interesting and entertaining way. And Ondi Timoner’s fascinating film We Live in Public can certainly be counted amongst these.
Even though the Internet has become part of the fabric of daily life for many of us, it’s still might come as something of a surprise to learn that it has been around for 40 years. And one of the first people to realise the enormous possibilities this new technology presented in a cultural sense was Josh Harris. Despite the fact that Harris is one of the Internet’s greatest pioneers, you’d be forgiven for never having heard of him – and that’s part of what makes Timoner’s film so fascinating. Shot over the course of Timoner’s 15-year friendship with Harris, it sees him become a dotcom millionaire in the early 1990s, launch the first Internet TV network and use the net as social network tool that was way ahead of his time. When he launched his Quiet project in 1999, in which 100 people lived in an underground bunker, their every movement captured on camera, it was an Orwellian vision of the fame and the future that has turned out to be chillingly accurate. But this experiment, along with others, had a huge psychological effect on Harris that has changed his life forever.
Whittled down from thousands of hours of footage, Timoner presents a gripping portrait of a man who is, as so often the case, part genius and part crackpot. Made up of interviews with Harris’s family, friends, colleagues and contemporaries, along with archive footage of the man and his projects, it is a jigsaw of success and failure, giddy highs and depressing lows that is as compelling as it is cautionary. As social networking sites grow in international popularity, and Internet profiles become intrinsic parts of the identities of millions, Harris’s vision of a world living out it’s life in public seems to be becoming something of a reality. That Harris is now a forgotten figure in the online community – a meeting with MySpace executives falls flat, partly because they don’t know who he is – doesn’t diminish his story. Indeed, it makes it even more fascinating. 4 stars
Director Ondi Timoner
Distributor Dogwoof Pictures
Released April 12