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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

FILM & VIDEO: Documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback

  • 3 min read


Terms and Conditions May Apply is an award winning investigative documentary by Cullen Hoback. The film reveals what corporations and governments can learn about people through internet and cell phone usage with the powers granted to them in terms of service and user agreement documents. In the early stages of the project Hoback decided to incorporate Lensbaby lenses as one of his storytelling devices. Read on to catch up with Cullen about the film's theatrical release and to learn more about the life of an independent documentary filmmaker.

The release of your documentary seems quite timely given recent events - how long have you been working on Terms and Conditions May Apply and where did you get the idea for the documentary?

I began the project nearly three years ago, asking the question "How is technology changing us?" It took me over a year of work to realize that the greatest change wasn't the technology itself, but what's behind that technology. All those seemingly benign terms and conditions and privacy policies revealed the real cost of using digital services--the complete erosion of privacy. It almost felt like I was being sucked into a conspiracy theory--but one that was actually real. The pure scope of what the government seemed capable of was beyond science fiction. Snowden gave us cold, hard evidence. My film supports why he made the decision to destroy his life in the name of blowing the whistle.

How did Lensbaby Composer Pro with Fisheye and Double Glass optics fit into your vision for the project?

In making a story that involves a lot of potentially dry imagery of the online experience, the Lensbabies gave a flat screen depth, or curious forms of focus. The lenses helped me to break up the monotony of the 2D Internet experience.

Being selected to screen your film at multiple film festivals is one level of accomplishment - how were you able to turn your success in the film festival world into a theatrical release?

I'd like to pretend that one day a switch was flipped, and we were suddenly heading to theaters. In reality, it was a mixture of helpful reviews, the right people seeing the film, word of mouth, and grantors finding us and wanting to use the film as a tool for explaining the greatest civil liberties nightmare of our times. We had a very untraditional release with lots of partners joining us along the way.

Has making this documentary changed your life in anyway?

My life has been taken over by becoming an advocate for digital privacy. I'm appearing on as many shows, and speaking at as many schools and events as I can to build awareness. This is why we've also started, as a platform for change. But I promise, I plan to make more films.

Any words of advice for aspiring documentary and/or independent filmmakers out there?

When you think you're done, you've only just started.

What's next for you?

I'm continuing to travel with the film around the globe. Maybe I'll get to meet Edward Snowden and bring him some thank you cookies--the kind that don't track you.

This is Hoback's fourth feature length film. It is currently screening in theaters nationally and is available on demand through Vimeo. We're excited to see the film in our home town of Portland where we originally learned about Director Cullen Hoback - check the official website for screenings in your area and digital distribution information.