About the Film
A film by Rebecca Wexler
I felt compelled to make We Break Things when I met three groups of hackers using different political strategies to advocate for free speech on the Internet. I witnessed them struggle over issues that range from war in Syria to Nazis in Europe, and I wanted to discover what drove them. What did they know about the interdependence of technology with law and politics? Why choose the tactics they did? This film tells their stories. Telecomix builds tools to circumvent censorship and surveillance. Anonymous breaks communication networks in acts of disruptive protest. And the Pirates run for electoral office. The hackers encounter classical conflicts between these activist strategies that test their beliefs in free speech and technological determinism. We Break Things reveals the good, the bad, and the human consequences of hacker activism as shadowy figures come forward to share their loves, losses, and deepest motivations.
Chris Wood works with the Telecomix hacker group and was wrongly arrested for an Anonymous hacking attack on the websites of MasterCard, PayPal, and Visa. The attack was conducted to protest corporate censorship of Wikileaks. With criminal charges pending against him, Chris flew from London to Las Vegas to meet me and participate in the film. He later introduced me to other Telecomix activists working throughout Europe. Photo by Chris Wood
I first encountered Stephan Urbach in a tent full of hackers at the Chaos Communication Camp gathering outside Berlin. Stephan works with the Telecomix hacker group and the German Pirate Party. He distributes anonymity and cryptography tools to eyewitnesses in Syria. Stephan gave me a ride back to town after camp, and has since become a good friend. He came to Yale Law School as a guest speaker and gave a rousing talk about his activism. Photo by Lukas Martini
Meredith Patterson works with the Telecomix hacker group. She has used computational linguistics to discover computer vulnerabilities to hostile code injections. I find Meredith personally very inspiring. She is intensely devoted to her work as a technologist, and preferred that I film her during the middle of the night. But whenever I could get the energy to stay up late enough, she was so generous in sharing her time, expertise, and personal experiences. Photo by Julia Wolf
Alexander Morlang is a member of the Chaos Computer Club hacker association. He serves as a Pirate Party representative in the Berlin parliament. Alex invited me along on one of his motorcycle tours to campaign through small towns in Germany. I got to film the Pirates in action reaching out to potential voters and rallying their supporters. In the evenings, I would sit in on their strategy meetings. Photo by Flu Popow
Gregg Housh is an early participant in the Anonymous hacker activist association and longtime organizer of its protests against the Church of Scientology. After an earlier career pirating software landed him in prison, he became a de facto spokesperson for Anonymous actions. When I reached out to Gregg and asked to meet him for lunch, he insisted we go to T.G.I. Friday’s … then and every other time I met him over a meal. He is knowledgeable, welcoming and humorous. Photo by Ian Murphy
As a teen, Dead Addict hacked universities to access the Internet before Internet Service Providers existed. He helped his friend Jeff Moss organize the first annual DefCon meeting, now the largest and longest running underground hacking gathering in the world. When we met, Dead Addict shared a keen critique of media misrepresentations of hacker culture and wanted assurances that I wouldn’t engage in fear mongering. He has since become a valued consultant for the film as a well as a character. Photo by Dave Bullock
Director/Producer Rebecca Wexler works on technology and criminal justice reform. I am a lawyer-in-residence at the Data & Society Institute and a former legal intern at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I also write on issues of technology and democracy as a Visiting Fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project. Before law school, I made documentary films for television, art galleries, and theaters. I am a graduate of Harvard College, Cambridge University, and Yale Law School.
I was beyond lucky to have the opportunity to work with Editor Emily Clifton. Emily has 20 years experience in post-production, and has edited 25 feature films, shorts, and television shows. She has taught at the Graduate Film Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. I had a blast collaborating with her in her edit suite in upstate New York, where I got to meet the chickens that live in her back yard. Emily’s brilliance and seemingly boundless creativity brought the film to a new level.
A friend and former colleague introduced me to Composer Ted Reichman, and told me how innovative and subtle his film scores are. Ted’s work includes original scores for the feature films Rick, The Memory Thief, and several documentaries, including Dear Mandela and Ahead of Time. He has served as a Fellow at the Sundance Institute Documentary Composers Lab. Ted drove to New Haven to watch the film with me, and we shared notes and ideas over drinks on my rooftop. Then he went back to his studio in Boston and produced a beautiful score.
I met Associate Producer Emily Calhoun many years ago when we worked together on a PBS documentary in New York. I was thrilled when she agreed to join our team. Emily is a writer, editor, researcher, and filmmaker who splits her time between NYC and the Bay Area. She has a Bachelors in International Relations, a Masters in Economics, and is finishing production on her first narrative short film. Her professionalism, efficiency, and independent producing skills really made it possible for me to make this film while going to law school.
Interested in learning more about the people, groups, events, and hacking that surrounded We Break Things? Download our digital resources to explore the world of hackers and hacking. These PDFs contain film discussion questions, overviews of the major hacking groups in the film, along with other groups relevant in the world today, and links to resources across the web to expand on the themes and ideas brought forth in the film.
Download the Film Discussion Questions for a lively talk on the people, ideas, and themes in We Break Things.
Download the Hacker Groups to get a basic overview of Telecomix, Anonymous, the Pirate Party and other hacker groups around the world today.
Download the Additional Resources for even more places to learn about topics and themes brought forth in the film.