On September 28, 2003, a group of friends in New Zealand uploaded a bittorrent file to distribute their homemade fan film, an amateur tribute to The Matrix, which they shot in nine days on a total budget of $800. 20 years later, the torrent is still active, and the film—called The Fanimatrix: Run Program—has become the oldest file distributed using the peer-to-peer file-sharing network.
It’s a huge milestone, both for the film and the technology that helped distribute it. Back in the days before Netflix, Amazon Prime, and countless other streaming services, the filmmakers behind The Fanimatrix embraced bittorrent as the only cost-friendly way to mass-distribute the fruits of their labor. The film is a loving homage to Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s solipsist cyberpunk franchise, filled with dramatic green lighting and martial arts action scenes, and presented in glorious 640 x 480 resolution. The file is just under 129 MB in size, and is being seeded by over 400 users on the file-sharing network at the time of this writing—with many likely contributing bandwidth in celebration of the anniversary. The torrent file which enables the download is still being hosted on the film’s website, which definitely looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2003. In stark contrast to when I originally watched it in my middle school computer lab, however, the completed film took less than 10 seconds to download. The film’s longevity is a testament to the enormous staying power of bittorrent, the decentralized sharing and piracy tech which lives on despite—or perhaps because of—the rise of massive corporate streaming platforms. “I never expected to become the world’s oldest torrent but now it’s definitely become a thing I’d love to keep carrying on. So I’ll be keeping this active as long as I physically can,” one of the filmmakers, Sebastian Kai Frost, told TorrentFreak. There were several moments over the past 20 years where the torrent nearly died due to lack of seeding, said Frost, but interest was revived each time with news of the file’s anniversary.
The Fanimatrix is a prime example of the amateur creative works that populated the pre-social media days of the internet, when tech like bittorrent and Flash animation enabled the spread of videos and memes in the absence of large platforms. Without the advent of P2P file-sharing software, it’s safe to say that the film probably would have fallen into obscurity forever. “It’s really heartening seeing the community pull together around this torrent, despite its usually low transfer count, and work together to keep it alive and kicking. It warms my heart on the daily,” Frost told TorrentFreak. “We’re super pumped that it’s still going and that people still take an interest in it. Looking forward to the 25th [anniversary] and having something special to share with the world.”