Sundance ’13 Trailer: ‘Google and the World Brain’
“Google could basically hold the world hostage.”
That’s a quote from UC Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson from the film Google and the World Brain, which will premiere at Sundance this month in the World Documentary Competition. It’s a heavy statement, and it’s no wonder why it was chosen to close out the doc’s trailer, which you can watch below. The film is basically about Google Books, the project of the Internet superpower in which millions of books have been scanned onto the web. That’s great for us (I use it all the time for easy research) and a fulfillment of H.G. Wells’s prediction that all the world’s knowledge would be easily accessible, but not everyone was happy about the endeavor. Because Google was also scanning copyright material without permission.
Google and the World Brain is directed by Ben Lewis, whose Why Poverty? episode Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty is now streaming free on Youtube. “I wanted to make a film that alerted an audience to perils, as well as the paradise of the Internet,” he says in a statement from the film’s press notes. “The ten-year story of Google Books offered me a narrative that acts as a spine for the film as well as a strong vocabulary of visual images. In terms of the narrative, there is a terrific arc. Google started out scanning amidst huge enthusiasm for the idea of creating a universal digital library. Gradually problems emerged – about copyright, national cultures and surveillance. Then there is a handful of heroes, authors and academics in America, Germany, France, China and Japan, who dared to take on the giant Google, the world’s most successful corporation ever! It is like David v Goliath.”
The film is also apparently about, or at least inspired, by Lewis’s love of libraries, and much of the visual content consists of crane and tracking shots through major libraries around thew world. And cityscape tricks like the one above. He says the camera work is inspired by that of Blade Runner and Rampart. “I wanted to make the film glow with a sense of the future, by turns hi-tech and makeshift, just like the scanning machines.” Additionally, Lewis wanted to use the Google narrative to open up a broader address of “the big themes of the Net” and other sites and projects like Wikipedia and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive (archive.org). For more info, visit the doc’s website. And for details on Sundance screenings, including the premiere on January 18, visit the festival guide entry.