Hackers is a classic documentary about the midnight programmers who created the personal computer revolution, as a labor of love.
I produced this documentary in 1985, to give tribute to these unsung heroes, from the first MIT hackers to popular Silicon Valley inventors, through interviews with twelve computer pioneers: Steve Wozniak, designer of the Apple II; Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld, designers of the Macintosh; Homebrew Computer Club leader Lee Felsenstein; MIT hackers Richard Stallman and Richard Greenblatt; and many more.
All interviews were shot at the first Hackers Conference, over a long week-end in 1984, in Gerbode Valley, California. The event was hosted by Whole Earth Catalog editors Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly, and was inspired by Steven Levy‘s classic book Hackers – Heroes of the Computer Revolution. This historic gathering brought together for the first time several generations of hardware and software designers, who collectively changed the world we live in.
For a quick preview of ‘Hackers’, watch the short trailer above.
Hackers is not about malicious code-crackers. It is about a “hacker ethic” that led to major breakthroughs in technology, and forever changed our world. And although these interview were shot over a decade before the advent of the Internet, many of the issues we discussed together remain unresolved today.
Producing this show also transformed my own life, leading me to join Apple Computer, where I helped start a new form of expression through interactive multimedia. With the help of HyperCard creator Bill Atkinson and other gracious collaborators at the Apple Multimedia Lab, we created some of the first multimedia applications of Macs and CD-ROMs, to help people learn by engaging all their senses, with photos, sounds, videos and interactivity. Our work inspired millions of people to learn and play with this new medium, and the multimedia revolution spread like wildfire in the decade that followed. More on this later.
Watch the full half-hour ‘Hackers’ show above.
Hackers is freely available on YouTube and the Internet Archive, for personal, non-commercial viewing purposes only. For commercial uses of Hackers, please contact Fabrice by email. Our partners at Getty Images offer high quality clips for licensing to film and TV producers.
Hackers was produced and directed by Fabrice Florin, in association with KQED. Camera by Wes Dorman, sound by Gerry Berkowitz, still photography by Matt Herron. Special thanks to Phyllis Florin, Kevin Kelly, Ryan Phelan, Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Wozniak, our partners at KQED and Whole Earth, our many sources of historical footage and our sponsors at Apple, Broderbund, Hercules and PCWorld, to name but a few.
“Hackers is the most charming, endearing, downright winsome documentary on public television in quite some time. It is a tribute to the men and women whose brilliance, perseverance and ethical sense not only created the billion-dollar personal computer industry, but an entire culture along with it. …I defy you not to be won over by their enthusiasm.”
Philadelphia Daily News – David Friedman – April 25, 1986
“To Florin’s credit, he allows the achievements and spirit of the assembled specialists to bleed through their apparent on-screen quirkiness … Showing the hackers’ eccentricities without comment, in fact, lets these talented people’s warmth come through; they not only bubble with the passion of their calling, but also with an extraordinary collective motivation.”
San Francisco Chronicle – Calvin Alghren – April 20, 1986
“Hackers offers a pleasant way to peek into the hearts, minds and keyboards of the ultratalented computerniks (a.k.a. “hackers”) who spawned the personal computer revolution … For a quick introduction to the best and brightest of them, Hackers is a quality bet.”
Washington Post – Michael Schrage – April 20, 1986
“Hackers is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on our industry; it’s destined to become a classic. I strongly urge everyone to watch it.”
PCWorld/MacWorld – David Bunnell – April 1986
“An affectionate and enjoyable trip through the minds of some of Hackdom’s biggest successes… Hackers is television worth watching.”
San Jose Mercury News – David Rosenthal – August 27, 1985
“A solid, informative, … byte-sized production.”
Chicago Tribune – Clifford Teny – April 28, 1986
“A look at one of our most fascinating sub-cultures”
Wall Street Journal, April 17, 1986
“The most interesting and effective body of intellectuals since the framers of the U.S. Constitution.”
Whole Earth Review – Stewart Brand, circa 1985
“In this short film “hackers” is used in its original MIT meaning for someone who comes up with an ingenious or daring “hack” or invention, shortcut, or prank. Not coincidentally, some of the hackers here are legends in the digital era …”
True Films – Kevin Kelly – April 4, 2006
Update: Valley of Genius Interview
Journalist Adam Fisher did a great interview with me about my Hackers documentary and how I came to join Apple to pioneer new multimedia experiences with Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard in the early eighties. This interview was originally done for “Valley of Genius”, Adam’s uncensored history of Silicon Valley — a wonderful book that features some of the hackers, founders, and freaks who made Silicon Valley boom, in their own words.
We talked at length about those exciting times, when the convergence of creative and engineering cultures sparked a whole new wave of innovation. The ‘hacker ethic’ that made the computer revolution possible was deeply influenced by the counter-culture movement spearheaded by Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog team — which I worked closely with as an independent TV producer (see my Whole Earth Flashbacks documentary).
The audio of our conversation is now available as a podcast through LeoLaporte’s TWiT network, which also produces This Week in Tech, along with other top-ranked online shows. It’s a wonderful walk down memory lane about a moment in time that truly changed the world — and started my digital career.