Ali Akbarzadeh brings net neutrality documentary to Cinequest
1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of KILLSWITCH, from concept to financing.
Ali (director) – The idea for Killswitch came about during the Arab Spring. It was the first time that I truly understood the power and the threat of the Internet. I realized that perhaps for the first time in history the people had a tool that could break existing power structures and topple autocratic regimes. A tool that also, by it’s very design, could enshrine the principles of true democracy. As I became obsessed with this potential I wondered if it could be taken away. Could a killswitch exist here in America? So, with my camera, I embarked on a journey. Over the course of 3 years, I sat down with 24 of the world’s top minds with regard to internet policy – hackers, academics, policy makers, think tank-ers and government officials alike. Each came from different backgrounds, but they all had one thing in common – they cared deeply about this technology and found a way to help protect it.
As for the financing, my producing partner Jeffrey Horn and I decided to allocate our company’s marketing budget to cover the cost of traveling to interview the first round of people at NCMR in Boston. Then we cut together a small trailer and posted to Kickstarter. We did raise quite a bit of support, but ultimately did not reach our funding goal. We did, however, have a very generous donor agree to donate outside of kickstarter, so we used that money to get another round of interviews and put together another trailer. Long story short, the trailer ended up in the hands of Larry Taubman, who is the founder of Occupy.com. We met him and he very graciously agreed to finance the rest of the film.
2Q: KILLSWITCH has done quite well at other film festivals. Will you be less nervous now at Cinequest? Does this process ever get any easier?
It is never easy watching your film. At this point I’ve lost all objectivity, and I can only see flaws or things that I would have done differently. That said, the actual process of going to film festivals is always a great experience. You meet passionate people and get to see great filmmaking, for me that’s the real reward.
3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making KILLSWITCH.
After we had replaced 2 editors, I decided to go to Orcas Island and basically isolate myself from everyone and cut the film on my own. This should have been the ‘best’ experience, but ultimately after 3 weeks when I sat back and watched the new cut I hated it. Having to show this cut to the producers and explain that I needed to rebuild the whole thing from the ground up was the worst experience.
Sitting across from the world’s elite thinkers and engaging in conversation is certainly one of the best experiences of documentary filmmaking. But I have to say that the moment that stands out to me as the BEST experience was, after about a month of research, finding our editor Prichard Smith. After meeting with him, I knew instantly that he got vision of the film and he was able to come in with ruthless objectivity. When he showed me the first sequence he cut, I felt the excitement that I had when I started the project 3 years earlier.
4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
People should see this film because it addresses what I believe are the most important issues of our time. The battle to control information is a very real issue with a lot at stake both for free speech and the future of democracy. We’ve worked very hard to create a film that takes complicated issues and communicates them on a human level. The film has already played a part in the Net Neutrality debate and our hope is that it continues to ignite the debate we all need to be having about the control of information in the 21st century.
5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for KILLSWITCH. Give us your acceptance speech.
Ahh.. Chris Dodd would never allow a film that bashes the MPAA to win an Oscar. ;-) But we’re cool with that.