The plot is thickening in the tale of the mysterious cyberattack that crippled the Sundance Film Festival’s box-office systems over the weekend.
The FBI is investigating the hack and is working with Sundance officials to identify the culprit, a festival spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter. Although the festival was able to get its ticketing systems back online within an hour of the Saturday breach, multiple other denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Sundance’s IT infrastructure followed. A DDoS attack works by flooding the bandwidth or resources of a targeted server.
Reached for comment, an FBI spokesperson says the agency is looking into the matter. A Sundance Film Festival rep offers the following statement: “The FBI is reviewing the case. At this point, we do not have any reason to believe the cyberattack was targeted towards a specific film. No artist or customer information was compromised.”
At the time of the hack, the festival offered little in the way of explanation of what happened, but hinted that filmmakers at the annual celebration of independent cinema may have been the target. “We have been subject to a cyberattack that has shut down our box office,” the fest tweeted. “Our artists’ voices will be heard and the show will go on.”
One producer of a Sundance documentary critical of the Russian government believes his film could have played a role in the attack.
“There’s been speculation that our film may have sparked retribution,” Icarus consulting producer Doug Blush tells THR. “It does not paint a flattering picture of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Icarus, which made its world premiere at the festival the day before the hack, centers on a Russian doctor who oversaw and then spoke out about Russia’s widespread state-sponsored sports doping. The Bryan Fogel-helmed film, which is being pitched to distributors, has played throughout the weekend in Park City at screenings for both press-and-industry and the public.
Icarus isn’t the only Sundance film that could antagonize the Russian government and Putin. Evgeny Afineevsky’s Cries From Syria — one of several docs tackling the war-torn nation — also takes a critical look at Putin and Russia’s military intervention in Syria. Cries From Syria made its world premiere at Sundance on Sunday, the day after the initial box-office cyberattack.
Afineevsky, who is Russian but has lived in the U.S. for 17 years, downplays the idea of a connection between his film and the hack.
“If it was Russia, they would have blown the whole system out,” he says.
Russia, of course, has been at the center of a U.S. government probe into the hack of the Democratic National Committee before the November election. But other projects playing at the festival take aim at groups known to have hacking capabilities. The New Radical looks at the new cyber-warfare being waged by groups like Anonymous, and Yasmin Elayat’s VR project Zero Days takes viewers inside an Iranian nuclear facility that was brought down by a computer virus known as Stuxnet. The latter project could anger anyone from Iran to U.S. and Israeli intelligence agents. China, a country that has been accused of perpetrating U.S. hacks in the past, also could have a beef with Joe Piscatella’s doc Joshua: Teenager Vs. Superpower, a film that chronicles the unlikely heroics of Joshua Wong and his fight against the Chinese Communist Party.
“Nobody really knows who’s behind [Saturday’s cyberattack],” says Alex Gibney, an executive producer of Zero Days VR and the director of a feature documentary of the same name. “If you look to who could be behind it, you look to people who are good at it, and the Russians would certainly be one party, and Anonymous could be a party.”
Anecdotally, festgoers experienced widespread disruptions to Wi-Fi service during the first few days of Sundance. On Saturday, the same day that thousands marched on Main Street in Park City in protest of President Donald Trump, most businesses along the route saw their Wi-Fi knocked out for the entire day, causing businesses to switch to cash only. On Sunday, a screening venue lost power, forcing the rescheduling of three films. Inclement weather might have been the cause for the latter.
Adds Gibney: “I’ve heard a number of different theories. There’s a number of Syrian projects. Is that the Russians who are backing [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad? There was a lot of anti-Trump sentiment here. Is it a pro-Trump group?”