In the world of computer viruses, there are three types of authors: hackers who infect for profit, hacktivists who hack to communicate a political message and nation states who create sophisticated malware to declare cyber war. Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney is looking for answers about the most sophisticated virus known to man, Stuxnet, which was discovered in 2011, attacking the infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear program. The source of this hyper-intelligent program is unknown and Zero Days builds a convincing argument to suggest it was a collaboration between Israel and the US. The title refers to a piece of code that renders the malware unstoppable, but also to the more ominous image of a doomsday scenario where all infrastructure (power grids, hospitals, telecommunication) is under threat.
Gibney holds the audience’s hand in the beginning with talking heads interviews that explain how this sophisticated malware was constructed, careful to explain terminology that may be too esoteric for some. The biggest challenge he faces is the brick wall of government officials refusing to talk about the issue; he asks himself: “How can you have a debate if everything is a secret?”
The second act skims through the history of the delicate relations between Iran, the US and Israel, and builds a convincing argument to suggest that Iran’s nuclear program forced America’s hand into developing the malware. Gibney seems to have taken a page out of Adam Curtis’ book here, combining all forms of media (archive footage, propaganda, home video recordings and his own graphics), along with a pulsing electronic soundtrack, to keep the viewer engaged and present multiple perspectives at once.
Whenever the audience gets lost in terminology, they are reminded instantly about what is at stake and the importance of preparing the world for a new chapter in warfare. Zero Days is an intelligent interrogation of how global relations have become even more complicated by virtual reality, and exposes how fragile our understanding of our own systems is. This is a disturbing documentary that asks a lot of questions and urges the audience to ask their own.
Zero Days is released nationwide on 6th January 2017.
Watch the trailer for Zero Days here: