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#HotDocs21 Review: The Face of Anonymous

April 30, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

In the opening scene of The Face of Anonymous, novelist Ian Thornton recounts how he met a panhandler in Toronto some years back. He eventually revealed himself to a man named Christopher Doyon, better known by the moniker Commander X, a notorious hacktivist and part of the secretive hacker group Anonymous, who was on the run from the FBI. When Thornton double-checked the guy’s information online, he was surprised to find it was all true.

A perpetually homeless eccentric who frequently compares himself to Batman, Doyon is an ideal subject for a documentary, and director Gary Lang crafts an engaging portrait of him and how he fit into the larger hacktivist movement in The Face of Anonymous. An unusually public and outspoken member of the online collective, Doyon relishes the camera’s attention, recounting stories about sitting in coffee shops carrying out dedicated denial of service attacks from his laptop, while on the run from FBI agents who were actively pursuing him.

Doyon was fascinated with the potential of computers from a young age, and he explains how he got involved in Anonymous, initially wanting to take down the loose online group for hacking an epilepsy foundation website. He instead helped steer them in the direction of using their powers for good, with Anonymous going on to influence the uprising in Tunisia and the Arab Spring, and taking down the corporate websites of credit card companies as retribution for them halting donations to Wikileaks. The wildest story of all involves Doyon fleeing from Toronto to Mexico, partially on foot, where Lang catches up with him in the film.

But, though he contributed greatly to Anonymous, Commander X remains a divisive figure within the group. Lang also interviews fellow hackers Barrett Brown and Gregg Housh, whose personal feelings on Commander X are mixed, to say the least. Doyon himself makes for a compelling subject, and The Face of Anonymous offers an entertaining and well-paced overview of the rise of Anonymous and the larger hacktivist movement, as well as an engaging introduction to the persona of Commander X.

The Face of Anonymous is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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