In 2009 Clusterian Torsten Hoffmann was studying for his MBA at Oxford University. A major part of the course was looking into the potential of alternative forms of currency and on January 9th of that year, it seemed like the answer finally came when the world was introduced to Bitcoin. It wasn’t until 2013 that Torsten personally found out about this new technology, but he was immediately enthralled. The potential he saw in Bitcoin inspired his first venture into feature film making, and a year later the release of his documentary, Bitcoin: The End of Money as we Know it.
Although he couldn’t leave it there. With constant innovations and rapid expansions in cryptocurrency, the full story couldn’t be contained in one film. Flash forward to six years later and now we have the release of, Cryptopia: Bitcoin, Blockchain and the Future of the Internet.
As a layman to the subject of digital currencies, I was excited to watch the film to get a better understanding of this technology so many hail as being the future of commerce. I must admit though, it’s a steep learning curve! When I spoke about this with Torsten, he wasn’t too surprised. He admits, “the film is really for the community”, although its reach is certainly not limited to that.
Broken up into three acts, the film goes through the history of blockchains, how they work as well as the culture that surrounds them. In the trailer, Torsten’s voice over speaks of “the big minds, and the big egos” of the leading figures in the cryptocurrency world, and as you watch the interviews throughout the film ,you can certainly see that is no exaggeration! One of my biggest take aways from the doco was being introduced to these characters and the zealous passion they have for this technology, as well as the “crypto-utopia” that they see it offering to the world.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the lot is Roger Ver, the CEO of Bitcoin.com. There are several interviews with him sprinkled throughout the film, in which he makes claims as outlandish as equating the creators of darknet marketplace, SilkRoad, to Rosa Parks in terms of being pioneers for civil rights. I would argue one of the many differences is Mrs. Parks wasn’t using her platform to traffic and sell illegal drugs!
Other highlights of the film include a tour of the swiss Fort Knox. Hidden in the depths of the Swiss alps, this vault holds servers containing 10% of all the bitcoin in the world. It was the first time I realized how tactile cryptocurrency can be. As you watch Torsten being led through this ultra-secure facility, you can’t help imagining it being the perfect backdrop for a heist film or secret lair for a Bond villain!
A joy any Clusterian watching the film will get, is seeing how often our offices feature in the movie. Every time I saw that familiar background, I couldn’t help but say a little, “I know that place!” to myself. While we were chatting, Torsten made a point of how great it was to shoot scenes at the Cluster as it offered, “a lot of variety”. It certainly did as it you see our office transform from scene to scene, acting as not only a Melbourne office, but one in Shanghai as well, and even transformed the Warehouse into a bustling café!
One of the main promises of Cryptocurrency is independence, financial freedom from government and cultural institutions. An example used in the film is of an Afghani woman stuck in an abusive relationship and in a country that systematically oppresses her civil liberties, in order to save money for herself, she collected bitcoin in secret. Eventually when she raised enough, she and her child were able to escape the tyrannical rule of her husband and carve out a life on their own terms.
This theme of independence is not just found in the film, but in the making of it as well. Torsten is a big champion of independent filmmakers, from his days representing them to distributors, to the eventual jump to becoming one himself. He likens making a film to,“starting a company. The filmmaker is the entrepreneur!” Perhaps that MBA was more film relevant than it first may seem!
It was this entrepreneurial spirit that pushed the successful Kickstarter campaign (earning the film over $44,000!) and got the backing of institutions like Screen Australia and Studio Hamburg as well.
Even the distribution of this film is autonomous. Only 5 stops into the Cryptopia world tour, the plans had to change when a certain pandemic hit, but that’s not stopping Torsten from getting his film out there! Forgoing “conventional” streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, etc, the film is only available for purchase from its website. A bold move that many advised against, but perfectly in-keeping with the “cut out the middle man” ethos of Crypto enthusiasts. The decision has led to a more organic following for the film, with a heavy reliance on social media to spread the word. With 700,000 impressions on twitter and 55,000 views for the trailer (linked below) in only 30 days, it’s a strategy that’s obviously working! Torsten recently wrote a blog outlining the decision and how it’s worked out so far, you can read that here.
Be sure to check out the film via its website and lose yourself in the wonderfully weird and innovative world of Cryptocurrency. Once you have, come find me and together we can try and figure out who Satoshi Nakamoto really is!