Saturday, May 11, 2013

Downloaded [film review]

Written for Toronto Screen Shots

Downloaded, which made its international premiere at Hot Docs, looks at the rise, fall, and legacy of Napster, the peer-to-peer file sharing service that forever changed the music industry. Originally conceived as a dramatic feature by director Alex Winter (probably best known as the Bill character from the Bill & Ted movies), it evolved into a documentary over the ten year period that Winter was involved on and off with the project.

Winter thoroughly explores all aspects of his subject, incorporating an extensive number of archival clips with new interviews from Napster opponents that include music industry executives and artists like Beastie Boy Mike D, Henry Rollins, and Public Enemy's Chuck D, along with the Napster side via interviews with the service's legal representatives and the main figures behind it, notably co-founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The affable pair evoke more sympathy than you'd expect, discussing the idealistic origins of the service that "came from a very pure place", as Fanning puts it, and them coping with the enormous scope of what they'd created, which included contending with numerous nasty legal battles with the music business over their enabling of wide-scale copyright infringement. It's easy to forget over a decade later that Napster's impact was incredibly swift - the service's "heyday" lasted less than two years before it was effectively shut down in 2001, later being acquired by other companies as a means of legal music distribution.

Downloaded presents the most balanced and definitive summation of the Napster saga that I've ever seen or read, with a compelling David vs. Goliath dynamic and an abundance of thoughtful discussion on the divisive issue of file sharing. 

Rating: B

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