In recent years, there have been tons of documentaries about cryptocurrency, from Trust Machine: The Blockchain Story (2018) to the 2016 film Banking on Bitcoin, along with a series of Netflix films that explore the good, the bad and the downright criminal enterprises of cryptocurrency. Coinbase even had a self-referential, partisan film about how creator Brian Armstrong founded the company, which many saw as a transparent marketing ploy to promote the company itself. The question remains: Does cryptocurrency really need a movie to promote it these days?
One hour Crypto decoded documentary on PBS NOVA takes a different approach, seeking to appeal to an audience that may be looking for real clarity. Recorded last year and this year in New York, California and Amsterdam, the team visited one of the world’s largest Ethereum conferences (ETHAmsterdam) and participated in early testing of Merge by the Ethereum Foundation. They also highlight EquityCoin, a cryptocurrency project launched by Brooklyn-based real estate investor Vernon J. and computer programmer Akil Ash to bring affordable housing to a low-income New York neighborhood where banks were unsure about it.
“The most exciting thing for me was seeing what many agree are the ‘early days’ of the emerging technology,” producer Edna Alburquerque told me. “Instead of a specific use case, I found it really inspiring and exciting to see how much energy and excitement there is in this space.”
The NOVA team didn’t expect to release the film during the crypto market crash, much less the dramatic implosion of FTX, but Alburquerque said the idea for the film leaked long before now. The team noted that a large portion of the population has heard of cryptocurrency, but still struggles to define and understand it. “We all agreed that it started to feel like crypto was entering the mainstream conversation,” Alburquerque said. “The reason NOVA thought it was a good topic is because it was the kind of topic that people have heard of, know a little bit about, and a lot of people are still confused about.”
“I hope the film helps a little to demystify crypto,” Alburquerque said. After watching the film, she wants audiences to understand crypto as a “financial tool” and peek into the “higher social visions that many crypto pioneers see.”
But the process of writing a story that was mostly about transactions on the blockchain network proved difficult, to say the least. “That was one of the main challenges – how do you visualize these things happening behind the scenes in a computer or abstract space?” she asked.
However, the NOVA team was up to the challenge and had already encountered this problem while filming documentaries on topics such as the microbiome, dark energy or the Dead Sea Scrolls. “It made me, at least as a filmmaker, think about how many of the things we do today are unknown to us,” she said.
For this reason, in Crypto decoded, Alburquerque and other filmmakers have focused on projects that show how crypto interacts with everyday life. “Crypto is such a large field and has many potential uses in many fields,” she said.
One route was real estate, as illustrated by the EquityCoin project. “Most people can definitely relate to the fact that the real estate world has a lot of gatekeeping,” Alburquerque said. In East New York, Brooklyn, where the EquityCoin project was located, the community was already struggling to get financing from the big banks and wanted to replace the banks with the community. Residents said the crypto is a “beacon for the revitalization of our community.”
Adding to that, the film looks at the merger through Danny Ryan, the key researcher behind the Ethereum project, and also takes a look at the pomp that was recorded at the Ethereum conference in Europe. “We have to go to ETHAmsterdam, which is a big coding conference. You feel the energy of these hackathons, these coding spaces where people are just excited about technology,” Alburquerque told me.
The team agreed that it could be useful to see how historians view this early period of cryptocurrency: “I wish I had a time machine and could look at this from the perspective of a viewer 20 years from now,” Alburquerque said.
You can watch the entire video on PBS NOVA.
In recent years, there have been tons of documentaries about cryptocurrency, from Trust Machine: The Blockchain Story (2018) to the 2016 film Banking on Bitcoin, along with a series of Netflix films exploring the good, the bad, and the downright criminal enterprises of cryptocurrency. Coinbase even had a self-referential, partisan film about how creator Brian Armstrong founded the company, which many saw as a transparent marketing ploy to promote the company itself. The question remains: Does cryptocurrency really need a movie to promote it these days? Subscribe for the full article
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