The week of August 10, 2014

Me IRL: Vivien Lesnik Weisman

By Dell Cameron

With The Hacker Wars, acclaimed filmmaker Vivien Lesnik Weisman chronicles the prosecution of the three most prominent hacktivists in the post-WikiLeaks era: Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond, and Andrew “weev” Auernheimer.

The documentary, set to premiere this falls, takes a personal approach, capturing the revolutionary spirit of their causes, with sympathy and clear admiration. It features interviews with National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, Anonymous attorney Jay Leiderman, and journalist Glenn Greenwald, among others.

“In a sense my film is about the co-opting of the fourth estate and the rise of the fifth,” says Weisman. “I want people to take away that docs are not the neat organized homogenized suburbia of film. Oh, and I want to make a glitch in the matrix.”

In the inaugural edition of The Kernel’s new interview series, Me IRL, Weisman opened up about the film, her early inspirations, and what she would be doing if the Internet didn’t exist.


Favorite social network: Family, friends and Twitter are the only essential social networks.

Must-follow on Twitter: @AnonymousVideo. I am in love with the Anonymous iconography and artwork.

Essential app: Tinder :)

Favorite bizarre Wikipedia entry: I find it bizarre that I’m not on there!

The Web would be better if: Thomas Drake ran the NSA, Julian Assange ran the New York Times and Vice the DEA.

The Internet in five years: I can answer this. Just let me give Julian a call.

If you weren’t a director, what would you be?

Perhaps an architect. I like to build worlds. That’s what draws me to film. Docs are written as you film them—always changing. In that sense I’d probably be a pretty terrible architect!

What would you be doing if the Internet didn’t exist?

I’d owe so much money in library late fees. I actually remember a world before the Internet. It wasn’t such a bad place. In many ways it was more connected than it is now. Facetime had an entirely different meaning. Still, I prefer having access to virtually anything, anytime, anywhere without having to leave my house/put on pants/brush my hair.

What interested you in hacktivists?

When one begins a film, I think there are two questions filmmakers should ask themselves: Why does this material lend itself to film rather than say an article, and why am I the best person to tell this story? The answer to the why me question is that I grew up with an analogue hacktivist—my father.

My father, Max Lesnik, is a journalist who has suffered for his relentless conviction to exposing corruption and the power structure. He had a magazine in Miami called Replica. The offices of Replica were bombed 11 times by Cuban-American terrorists groups. These were CIA trained and sanctioned terrorists groups operating within the U.S. There were also assassination attempts against him yet he never backed down. Given my pedigree, the all-out war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange struck a cord.

WikiLeaks ushered in the leaking culture, which is a revolutionary force. My film is about three information warriors in the post-WikiLeaks era who, like Assange, have never backed down in spite of the U.S. government coming down on them with insane force.

The second question was answered easily.

The Internet is overflowing with life, and hacktivists are the modern-day outlaws and folk-heroes. There is not one shot of a computer screen in the entire film. The Internet is not presented as a bunch of green glow dots and cables like in other films. These are amazing characters that inhabit a new and exciting world.

Illustration by J. Longo