Hippies from Hell is a 53-minute documentary on the pre-World Wide Web generation of hackers in Holland directed by journalist Ine Poppe. The documentary shows Poppe learning about hacker culture from her 15-year-old son Zoro. The movie covers the group’s ideals and interest in subverting the official corporate computing ideology of the 1980s.
At the center of the group was a magazine called Hack-Tic, whose heyday was about 1989-1993; after that the action drifted to online message boards and listservs. It was kind of a Dutch version of 2600; both magazines identified old-school hacking of telephone systems as part of their origin stories. According to the movie, these Dutch hackers were instrumental in wresting control of the Internet out of the hands of large institutions who wanted to keep it for themselves.
The documentary focuses on “Net activists, hardware artists, security experts, puzzlers, and the members of TOOOL, the Dutch lockpicking foundation.” Among the prominent hackers in the group are Zoro, Carla van Rijsbergen, Patrice Riemens, RGB, Walter Belgers, Sharon Vlaming. To a surprising extent, given the well-documented sexism in Silicon Valley that has been making headlines recently, a high percentage of the innovative computer experts depicted in the movie are women. As someone says, “There’s a remarkable amount of women [in the scene].... some of them are good programmers, some of them have nothing to do with IT and aren’t regarded with contempt.”
To an unusual extent, the Hippies from Hell were and are interested in analog solutions to some extent. One fellow boasts about the strip of green plastic that restores the authentic look to an old arcade version of Space Invaders. Mathilde Mupe once contrived a kind of nature computer; her idea was to “take a terminal and rebuild a keyboard from pebbles” and “built a little altar with plants and grass ... by hitting the stones you could get on the Net.” Viewers will also be treated to riveting lockpicking competitions and “Powerpong,” an attempt to create a semi-analog version of Pong in which the power is generated through pedaling and the handlebars control the Pong paddles.
Probably the most striking and memorable sequence involves—I swear to God this is true—a nudist lockpicking workshop run by Germans.