Film Review: ‘The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin’

The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin

A slick but arguably overly partisan look at the history of the alternative digital currency to date.

As its title indicates, “The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin” takes a decidedly optimistic view of the digital currency some call “the money of the future,” while others — little heard from here — dismiss it as a overblown hype doomed to failure. The consistent rah-rah tenor makes Nicholas Mross’ documentary less interesting than it could be, since it shies away from most tough questions to simply chase the enthusiasm demonstrated by Bitcoin supporters. That makes these 96 minutes rather like being stuck in one long meeting with the almost invariably young, white, middle-class male members of a startup: Their zeal isn’t all that infectious unless you’re already on the team. Pic opened in  New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland on Oct. 3, with VOD launch on Oct. 10.

Supposedly invented by a mysterious Japanese man named Satoshi Nakamoto (whose current whereabouts are unknown), Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer monetary system in which all transaction records are public. Participants can use its open-source software to transfer virtual currency to one another as easily as they might send an email. Because it is designed to have an absolute ceiling of 21 million Bitcoins in circulation (not anticipated until 2040), and the system has no central depository or administrative authority, it has great appeal to libertarians and others who seek alternatives to a perceived corrupt, manipulative banking infrastructure and excessive government regulations. Its low processing fees compared with those of mainstream credit-card companies also hold considerable allure for merchants.

It’s still considered an “experiment,” but has fascinated the business world since 2009, when the first Bitcoins were electronically mined. While commercial transactions have lagged behind speculative activity, their value has generally risen (despite a couple crashes) over time, recently crossing the $1,000 line only to plummet down to approximately half that rate. As one observer puts it here, “If people believe it has value, it will.”

However, as yet it exists in a netherland of legality, regarded with varying suspicion and skepticism by governments that are just beginning to weigh in regarding the monitoring and legitimacy of digital currencies. Docu briefly notes some sources of controversy, most notoriously Bitcoin’s popularity in a number of online black markets including Silk Road, which allowed users to purchase a wide range of illegal drugs before it was shut down in a U.S. bust last year. But its vulnerability to theft and lack of standard consumer protections basically go unremarked here. Nor is there any debate when Bitcoin entrepreneurs follow the path of the worst traditional financial powers, as when we see one such business moves its operations to Panama in order to escape U.S. regulatory oversight. A supporter here claims the idea is to “take control of money from the state and give it back to individuals.”

But beyond simply being new, what exactly prevents Bitcoin from being exploited for the benefit of an elite few like established financial networks? When the three main Bitcoin-wave-riding businesses followed here collapse amid bankruptcies and one arrest on money-laundering charges, the film shrugs this off as regulation dragging down innovation. A more balanced documentary might have actually asked whether these protagonists’ actions were indeed wise, or entirely above board.

Whether its subject ultimately proves a true economic game-changer or a fast-forgotten fad, either fate may make “The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin” more compelling in hindsight than it is at this still-inconclusive early point. Mross tries to personalize his overview by focusing on his brother Daniel Mross, an early Bitcoin adopter who’s seemingly bet his young family’s future on acquiring the digital currency (and has a basement full of expensive computers doing his mining.) He’s amiable enough, but these sequences aren’t very involving. At the end, his claim that “Bitcoin belongs to everyone and the future is ours to build” feels no less like blind faith than it would have at the beginning.

What’s lacking here is a wider perspective, not just on Bitcoin but on the entrenched world financial institutions that it could conceivably, at least partially displace. Though we see plenty of eyeblink newscast excerpts charting the currency’s public ups and downs, there’s exactly one economic authority heard from late in the game offering a more considered skepticism re: Bitcoin’s real-world potential. That’s hardly enough to balance the film’s scales. Nor do we glimpse much of how Bitcoin might impact ordinary citizens’ lives for the better, since the pic seldom leaves the world of financial speculators who frankly don’t seem very different from the usual Wall Street types.

Assembly is brisk, aided by some polished animation and graphics, though those not already intrigued by the subject may find the film’s aggressive hard sell somewhat tedious nonetheless.

Film Review: 'The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 3, 2014. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production

(Documentary) A Gravitas Ventures release of a Daronimax Media, 44th Floor Prods. and Fair Acres Films production. Produced by Ben Bledsoe, Nicholas Mross, Patrick Lope. Co-producers, Ashley Mross, Daniel Mross. Executive producer, Juergen Mross.

Crew

Directed by Nicholas Mross. Screenplay, Patrick Lope, Daniel Mross, Nicholas Mross. Camera (color, HD), Nicholas Mross; editor, Patrick Lope; music, Simon Stevens; animation, Nathan Inglesby, Kevin Stiller, Duncan Elms; sound, Lou Teti.

With

Daniel Mross, Charlie Shrem, Jered Kenna, Erik Voorhees, Gavin Andresen, Mike Caldwell, Mark Karpeles, Roger Ver, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, Tony Gallippi, Stephen Pair, Brian Armstrong, Fred Ehrsam, Yifu Guo, Mr. Bitcoin, Vitalik Buterin.
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  1. wordy2013 says:

    This film was largely made for the people who are a part of Bitcoin already. They already know about most of these things, but it is fascinating to see the people involved on screen in a documentary. The reviewer is looking for a different type of film – a debate. There is plenty of that going on every single day, and we don’t necessarily need to see that in this particular movie.

  2. Pete says:

    2040 is often quoted because that is when about 99.8% of bitcoins will have been mined. 100% of the 21 million won’t be reached, however, until 2140.

    https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Controlled_supply#Projected_Bitcoins_Long_Term

    • Neal Palmquist says:

      I hope that someday before 2040 there will be somebody who can figure out an honest reason to explain why there was ever any need to create more than one infinitely divisible bitcoin.

      I said “honest” reason.

      Anybody who did their math homework knows that when you have the property of infinite divisibity then it doesn’t matter if it is 21 million divided by infinity, or 21 divided by infinity, or 2 divided by infinity or just 1 divided by infinity. You guys should have realized from day one that you cannot create a unit out of nothingness, give it the property of infinite divisibility, and then also expect to make it move by undoing that work when you multiply it 21,000,000 times.

      The limit on the number of bitcoins has always been just one bitcoin.

  3. darren kis says:

    2Because it is designed to have an absolute ceiling of 21 million Bitcoins in circulation (not anticipated until 2040)2

    it’s 2014. Please do your research

    • Neal Palmquist says:

      Sorry, but not all of us are well versed in the suicide cult scripture from the Book of Finney chapter of the Cold Testament.

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