Thousands have rallied against the tough new laws on internet use in Russia. -AFP
In the early days of Russia's internet, hippies founded the first telecoms venture with Americans, an astrophysicist ran the country's most visited website and providers punished hackers by kneecapping them with baseball bats.
The heady time, which coincided with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, is the subject of a new documentary that looks back at a very different era as the Kremlin clamps down on internet freedom in present-day Russia.
Setting the tone, footage from 1990 shows American Joel Shatz and his Soviet partner Joseph Goldin -- the duo behind the first Soviet-American telecoms venture -- driving a ballistic missile transporter carrying clowns to Red Square after convincing the traffic police that the performance had been approved "by the highest authorities".
Andrei Loshak, a former television reporter, tracks the main personalities behind the Russia-based internet, known as Runet, for the documentary "Holy War. The history of Runet," to be screened Sunday at Moscow's Beat Film Festival.
His travels take him back and forth across the Atlantic to film the current lives of early internet savants, website editors and trolls, who are now Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, cannabis investors and pro-Kremlin politicians. Although Russia now dominates headlines with ever-tougher legislation restricting internet use, in the 1990s "the internet developed completely freely," Loshak says.
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