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Downloaded | 2013 SXSW Review

From Napster to Now, Winter Examines the Downloading Boom

Downloaded Alex Winter Poster Napster’s rise and fall and the ensuing decade of music piracy is at this point common knowledge but it is easy to forget that at the outset it was just a dozen college kids sitting in a crowded room, eating cold pizza, trying to keep the servers up. From the creators of peer to peer file sharing, the artists who suffered, the artists who benefited (an oft-overlooked group, and a huge one), or the people who created this seismic shift (the fans), with Downloaded, docu-helmer Alex Winter sharply stitches together a balanced, all encompassing view on the subject and its many assiduous voices.

One kid in his dorm room has the power to bring the music industry to its knees and forever re-shape the way we buy, access and listen to music. This much we know. What Napster’s creator Shawn Fanning and co-founder Sean Parker are like as people is lesser known, unless you trust the testimony of Lars Ulrich and The Social Network.

Fanning attended Boston University but he was barely there; like so many college students, his social and creative life existed solely online. He began to develop Napster (his online avatar) and soon it required too much attention to continue his studies. He promptly dropped out—his mother was devastated!—and worked non-stop, sleeping on the floor of his uncle’s office. Enter Sean Parker, a visionary entrepreneur who has understood the infinite power of the Internet as well as anyone (Parker co-founded Napster, Facebook and is the creator of Spotify). Though without technical expertise, Parker was integral, developing the project, setting up meetings and helping to find the startup money. The company exploded in the late 90s, making international news, attracting the scorn of record executives and musicians alike. Then the bottom fell out.

To watch Parker and Fanning recount the lawsuits, the whole long, ugly, sad downward spiral is to see the human side to this amorphous entity, Napster. When fellow coders recount the good ol’ days, everyone laughs, except Fanning, who sits staring off clearly recalling the stress, the pain, all of this caused. Everyone else in one way or another have moved on, Fanning still walks around with these complicated memories. Parker is not even in the room with them most of the time. Due to one fateful use of the word “piracy” in an email, he was made the scapegoat and ousted from Napster before it crumbled completely. He is slightly more guarded, steeled, now older and stronger having gone through these growing pains.

After a few failed startups between them, Parker and Fanning are now back on top, Parker with Spotify and Fanning having sold his company to EA for 30 million. Winter artfully shows the rise and fall of this one time cyber giant. Metallica, Dr. Dre, the legal council, kids in their dorm room, everyone has an opinion about Napster, and everyone was affected by it. Fanning and Parker claimed from the outset that they were not taking, giving or stealing anything, that they were simply providing the context to bring people together. If only it were so simple.

Reviewed on March 10th at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival – Documentary Spotlight section
106 Mins

Jesse Klein (MFA in Film and Video Production from The University of Texas at Austin) is a Montreal-born filmmaker and writer. His first feature film, Shadowboxing, (RVCQ '10, Lone Star Film Festival '10) . As well as contributing to IONCINEMA, he is the senior contributor to This Recording and writes for ION Magazine and Hammer to Nail. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (All About My Mother), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardenne Bros. (Rosetta), Haneke (The White Ribbon), Hsiao-Hsien (Flowers of Shanghai), Kar-wai (In The Mood For Love), Kiarostami (Close-Up), Lynch (Blue Velvet), Tarantino (Jackie Brown), Van Sant (To Die For), von Trier (Breaking The Waves)

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