With “The Great Hack,” filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim set out to make a film about the Sony hack, the breach of data and leaked emails from Sony Pictures that rocked Hollywood back in 2014. But as they further examined the role that data played in telling this story, their film deepened into something much greater — and much more sinister.
Noujaim and Amer were previously behind the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Square” about the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square in 2011. That film examined how posts on social media could shape a cultural revolution and community in the real world. So when the Sony hack threatened to cause an international conflict and when the subsequent efforts of Cambridge Analytica began to influence the 2016 election, they knew there was a deeper story to be told about technology.
“We started to realize that the hack was actually not necessarily a physical hack but something much larger than that, leading to our desire to make a film about our sort of mind hack, or brain hack,” Noujaim told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at the Sundance Film Festival. “Is this really going from ‘The Square’ to the death of the public square?”
But how do you put a face on a menace like data or algorithms? “The Great Hack” follows two individuals, one who slowly wanted to discover more about this world of technology and another who had been embedded with it but wanted to get out. And along their journey, it examines the influence data and algorithms have on everyday people.
“How do you make the invisible visible in such a world?” Amer said. “These algorithms are running so much of our lives, yet they’re devoid of morality. They’re not burdened with moral issues like we are, and in a way we feel that a lot of the people who interact with these algorithms have their morality shaped and shifted as well, and in a way can even sometimes become amoral, which could be fascinating and unnerving to some.”
“The Great Hack” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 26. Watch TheWrap’s interview with Amer and Noujaim above.