Cryptopia: Bitcoin, Blockchains and the Future of the Internet — Film Review

Cryptopia Film

Forgetting any links to the first movie from Torsten Hoffmann five years ago, “Bitcoin: The end of money as we know it”, Cryptopia makes for an engaging journey for the Bitcoin curious that is every bit as entertaining as it is educational.

As a documentary film that attempts to explain what makes Bitcoin so special as a new digital currency, Cryptopia pulls off a masterpiece in the demonstrative value of an educational movie.

It combines useful visuals with simple definitions of the technology, with precise intervals of text to guide users through the explanations in a logical chronology of how Bitcoin works and why it’s an improvement on the current global monetary system. The use of interviews and some personal touches from the scores of crypto personalities, combined with good editing, ensure the 90-minute affair is highly consumable.

Much credit should go to Antonopoulos, as usual, for always presenting his points so precisely and succinctly, and so provocatively, such as when he says how crypto presents a litmus test for states’ guarantees of fundamental freedoms and human rights.

It does very well to build for the audience as well, the “war” being played out within and outside the industry, though it may not be clear from the presentation why some of these characters were so divisive. The “civil war” in Bitcoin was a huge point in history for Bitcoiners, but is probably of no real interest to the non-crypto user.

Also, some of the material might not age very well — for example, Jamie Dimon has publicly said he regrets his earlier comments on Bitcoin, and Roger Ver is no longer the rabid anti-Bitcoin jihadist he once was (and has also closed Bitcoin.com forums and redesigned Bitcoin.com, and removed Bitcoin Core references, so what the film references isn’t quite so valid now). Because of the portrayals of Bitcoin critics as ignorant, the documentary does lose some of its objectivity, in our opinion.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of differing viewpoints from people firmly on both sides (or all sides) of the Bitcoin camp, does set for an entertaining sideshow that might appeal to crypto-familiar audiences. At the very least, it does also present the industry personalities as deeply passionate people, which is good value for a documentary about the industry.

There was just one aspect (or lack of) that disappointed this viewer.

As the sole reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes, Andrea Chase’s assessment of the film as a “lively, cinematic page-turner” and a “rollicking journey through the history of Bitcoin: its detractors, its disciples, and its philosophers” is remarkably accurate — but in that description is the clue about what might ultimately be the shortfall of Cryptopia. In attempting to impress, the story in this film is really just that of the disciples, detractors, and philosophers — but those of a distinctly corporate nature. They’re all CEOs or founders or business owners, podcast hosts, so clearly with commercial agendas.

We see scenes from conferences attended only by the crypto mega-rich and those who made their crypto fame from making a business out of Bitcoin. These are lavish cruise parties where people pay or are paid a lot of money to speak.

We are taken into super-secret Swiss mountain vaults where the wealthy keep their Bitcoin, ironically leading directly after a segment warning us “not your keys, not your Bitcoin”. The irony of a man who supposedly got into Bitcoin after his government stole his parents’ money now making a business of getting people to not control their own Bitcoin, as the introductory explanation of a digital vault shows or as Satoshi would have advised, seems a sticking point for this viewer.

Perhaps one area of improvement for a follow-up film would be to investigate the many use cases that Bitcoin proponents often bring up. Missing in Cryptopia are the stories from the segment of Bitcoin society that might actually have more of a resonance with what surely its makers must hope to be the audience. Tales from regular users, people who use Bitcoin on a daily basis, or those who’ve discovered it as the much-talked-about solution to an actual problem in their lives. Room77 owner Jorg Platzer was probably the closest specimen in this regard but this viewer hoped to not only hear about Afghan women getting paid in Bitcoin, but hear from them. All we get are second-hand, unverified stories from journalists and podcast hosts.

What would have been incredible? Actual film footage of use case evidence. Where are the supposed thousands of Argentinian or Zimbabwean or Lebanese people protecting themselves from hyperinflation with Bitcoin? Or Iranians circumventing unfair censorship with it? Or the yellow jackets in France and the protestors in Hong Kong using Bitcoin as a tool in their struggles for freedom?

Whetted by Cryptopia, this viewer hopes to see them waiting for us in the next film. However, we have no hesitation in recommending this documentary film, which is available to stream now at cryptopiafilm.com

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