The Face of Anonymous | Review | Hot Docs Documentary Festival 2021


 In September 2014, David Kushner of the New Yorker wrote a piece on Christopher Doyon, often known as "Commander X", and the intriguing and seemingly illicit affairs of the enigmatic hacktivists. Before you even hit the middle of the second paragraph, a vivid portrait of a young boy who craved connection with people is painted. 

Gary Lang's 2021 documentary, The Face of Anonymous, is an extension of that universe. Doyon, within minutes, expresses his ability to quickly attach to people who are willing to give him the time of day because of the void not fulfilled in youth. As he recollects these memories, he nonchalantly expresses relationships to drugs and homelessness. It's disheartening despite the film's attempt to gloss over those moments with wild and free images of festivals and free-spirits. 


Around the 20-minute mark, the audience gets what they expect to see, a closer examination of forum culture, emphasising its use as a place of community that unintentionally became a political movement. There are accounts from different users, including Barrett Brown, journalist and activist who expresses disdain for the film's lead subject, Doyon. There is an atmosphere of tension captured by Lang, and at times it's not clear whose story is being told due to its vast quantity of source material. It's inadvertently emotional to watch as the film hones in during the final thirty minutes on the implications of this culture. 


There are so many pockets to dip into that 90-minutes doesn't feel like enough time to fully indulge in the story. The film's strength is in the narrative that gets left behind; the way this movement has affected vulnerable people who have insubstantial real-world intimacy. While traditionally entertaining in watching people don a higher self, calling themselves Gods and adopting superhero-like personas, it fails to anchor itself on just how devastating that self-importance becomes when it manifests. The movie this should've been is in the final thirty minutes, and it would've been a fantastic one. Doyon's story is hugely inviting for audiences. If they'd anchored themselves to him the entire time without falling victim to the allure of hacktivism, there'd be a uniquely emotive and affecting story. 


The Face of Anonymous is for audiences looking for a brief history of the Anonymous movement while getting some fun anecdotes and behind-the-scenes moments of how they accidentally stumbled into dangerous and political territory. There are some interesting stories from the different contributors, and each one is enigmatic in its own right, but the real fascination lies with the man whose surface we did not get beneath.

Hot Docs starts on April 29th, running till May 9th - tickets are available via www.hotdocs.ca 

Hot Docs is geo-locked to Canadian audiences. 

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