Filmmaker Alex Winter on the rise and fall of Silk Road, and the web’s anonymous, decentralized revolution.
In May, Ross Ulbricht, the creator of Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Deep Web, directed by Alex Winter, is Ulbricht’s story: a documentary that sheds light on the dark net’s unknown, un-indexed economies, and examines the human impact of anonymous communities. Winter’s film captures, in real time, the Internet’s open crisis: the way in which piracy and politics are shaping the web that connects us.
Deep Web premiered on Epix in May. Today, you can download the full film on BitTorrent Bundle. Grab the Deep Web Bundle for $9.99 to unlock the full feature film, plus exclusive interviews and bonus videos from Winter’s hard drive.
01 Deep Web Trailer [Video]
02 Press Notes [PDF]
01 Deep Web Full Feature [Video]
02 Cyber Punks (Tim May) [Video]
03 Crypto-Anarchists [Video]
04 Deep Web Photo Set [Art]
05 Deep Web Interview Transcripts [Text]
We caught up with Alex to talk about Downloaded, Deep Web, and why you shouldn’t be scared of the dark (net).
What We Mean When We Rebel Against the Digital Revolution: Words with Alex Winter
Q. Things like the deep web, Tor, and cryptocurrencies are more than ever part of the mainstream, yet they’re still broadly misunderstood (lol). What inspired you to seek out and explore the unindexed web?
I've been actively interested in the rise of Internet-based communities since the Usenet era. Napster and Silk Road are two of the most significant and polarizing technological services in the history of the Digital Revolution thus far, and I wanted to examine them closely and hopefully make their function and the motives of their creators more clear.
It’s important for people to understand what the Dark Net is and isn't, and why the Silk Road and the case of Ross Ulbricht matters to the average citizen.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned exploring the web’s dark corners?
The most surprising thing I encountered in telling this story was that all of the core architects and vendors on Silk Road, the truly significant ones, were politically, not financially, motivated. They all came from political and/or Hacktivist backgrounds.
Q. Unlike most documentaries, which examine historical events, the story of Deep Web unfolds in real time. What was behind this approach?
Downloaded, my Napster movie, was a retrospective examination of a watershed and turbulent moment in the history of the Digital Revolution.
I wanted this film to ride shotgun on this kind of moment as it transpired: to witness the motives, the confusion, the mythologizing as it all happened, and from the inside.
Q. Deep Web came out of a Kickstarter campaign. What was your approach to building a community for this film?
Community is very important to me. We built a robust online community with Downloaded, and we wanted to expand that community with Deep Web. Crowdfunding made the most sense to implement that, and it allowed us to get the movie to our community faster with extras and such, to bring them along our process.
Q. What’s been your approach to distribution; to getting the documentary out to fans?
Distribution is a mess at the moment. The 'legacy' companies are angry and frightened and don't want to change, so there is a lot more piracy as consumers aren't given adequate and timely access to content. I do the best I can getting my work out to our audience around the world as efficiently as possible given how broken the machinery is. Our crowdfunding backers got Deep Web DRM-free with extras immediately, and other people have had to wait unfortunately. It's frustrating but that's the tree we’re sitting in.
Q. Downloaded and now, Deep Web, examine the web’s emerging and illicit economies. Napster forever changed the music industry (for worse, and for better). Do you see Silk Road as something that will do the same for (legitimate) digital retail and distribution?
The similarities between Silk Road and Napster are striking, almost identical. Like Napster, Silk Road was a trust-based, centralized system that was shut down, spawning hundreds (if not thousands) of copycats, until ushering forth de-centralized systems that will not be so easily stopped.
Of course we will see legitimate online drug services in the future. Like Napster, Silk Road will look almost quaint in a decade or two, as the Drug War winds down and we regulate drugs moving forward.
Q. What do you see as Ross Ulbricht’s impact or legacy?
It's hard to say, as so little is definitively known about Ross. Many different people see Ross as many different things; Libertarian hero, Crypto-Anarchist revolutionary, Hacktivist martyr, murderous drug lord, etc etc. We do know he created the Silk Road, and regardless of what you think of it, it was the first large scale anonymous community online. That is a big deal.
The flip side of this legacy is as a victim of a dark period in America where both Cyber and Drug related offenses are over-prosecuted. Whatever Ross may have done or not done, life in prison without the possibility of parole is an outrageously extreme sentence.
Q. How do you see decentralization impacting the creative communities, filmmakers, and storytellers?
Decentralized and open source technologies are impacting the world in seismic, fundamental ways. They are where and how the real change is happening, the important change. They impact what stories we tell, how we tell them and how those stories reach the public.
And when people rebel against the Digital Revolution, when they fight it and demonize it and attempt to dismiss it, it is really decentralization and open source that they are afraid of, whether they understand that or not.
It is the fear of a democratized, fluid, global community. It's an amazing time to be alive, to see the world come together and create and innovate in this way. But for many people it is utterly terrifying.