The Bitcoin Gospel is a surprisingly unbiased look (considering its name) at the state of bitcoin, showcasing the potential of the digital currency without glossing over some of its most pressing issues. Created by VPro Backlight, the Dutch documentary series that has won several awards and gained some tech street cred when it released some documentaries under the Creative Commons license and put them out on Bittorrent.
There really aren’t a lot of simple “watch this and get a fair look at bitcoin” free documentaries out there. Most are either too shallow, too positive or focus on the sensationalistic aspects to the detriment of everything else. The Bitcoin Gospel, despite its namesake, is one of the most fair hour-ish (run time is 48:52) looks at the digital currencies available for free.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t good documentaries out there. I’m focusing solely on up-to-date, “Bitcoin 101” documentaries that are freely available. The Rise and Rise is great, (but also slightly out dated at this time) I can’t tell my Uncle to go spend twelve bucks to watch it on iTunes when I see him over Thanksgiving and expect him to. I might be able to get him to watch a free video done by a professional third party that promises an unbiased look. Then that might convince him to look deeper, or not, but he will at least have a basic understanding of what Bitcoin is.
The Bitcoin Gospel has a lot of familiar faces, but primarily focuses of Roger Ver, long time Bitcoin advocate, CEO of Memory Dealers, majority shareholder of the company Blockchain and one of the most visible people in bitcoin. He gives the pro-Bitcoin side of things, demonstrating its current uses and doing a great job of showcasing its future potential.
On the other side they have Izabella Kaminska from the Financial Times. She acts as the counterbalance to Ver, presenting some of the actual and perceived flaws of the currency. In between the two of them sits economist Garrick Hileman from the London School of Economics, who does a great job of giving a knowledgeable outsider’s mostly positive view of bitcoin.
Those aren’t the only familiar faces you’ll see. Television personality Max Kieser, developer Peter Todd, advocate Andreas Antonopoplus, Investor and Author Brett Scott and others are included in the film. Mining mogul Marshall Long acts as a guide to the mining world, and the segment succeeds in demonstrating to new comers the cold hard truth: That they should steer clear of it. Marshall doesn’t say that himself, but by contrasting one of Long’s super farms from a few years ago, along with a more current Chinese farm from another company, to an assimilation of the scammy “anyone can mine!” videos typically found on YouTube, the filmmakers make the case that new comers should avoid mining, without stating it directly.
The movie opens up with Ver giving away bitcoin to someone through Dutch television by showing the private key to a bitcoin wallet preloaded with 100 Euros. He notes that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. The scene feels not unlike a game show, with Ver competently playing the role of host. That the viewer, nor the creators for that matter, know who the winner of the “contest” is, doesn’t detract from the experience but actually enhances it. The winner, by virtue of his or her anonymity, is free from the normal show-running aspects of production game shows. We don’t have to wonder if they rigged it, because there was nothing to rig. The winner, whoever it was, won because they were quicker than everyone else at pulling out their bitcoin wallet, importing the code and sending it elsewhere.
Again, the filmmakers don’t state it outright and the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions, but the implication is unavoidable: Bitcoin operates outside of the traditional finance world, the “people” run it.
There is a section of the film that goes into Ver’s past but they make it very clear that Ver is just one face of Bitcoin. They present him as someone typical of the Bitcoin elite, rather than giving the impression that he is in charge of bitcoin itself. Viewers with no skin in the game may be interested in hearing where this bitcoin evangelist comes from, so I have no issue with them getting into it. Besides digging into his past, the same segment discusses the libertarian aspects of bitcoin culture and as a side effect, highlights the larger potential of bitcoin as it relates to government control of the financial system. One line by Ver in particular stands out:
“If you or I create counterfeit Euros or print euros or dollars or Yen, we would go to jail for counterfeiting because it is destructive to the economy. By counterfeiting dollars, it is stealing from everyone else in the economy that has money. When governments do the exact same thing, it has the exact same negative effects the only difference is that they have fancy names for it like economic stimulus or quantitative easing but it is destructive for the exact same reasons.”
As mentioned, the film doesn’t shy away from the negative aspects of Bitcoin. The mining centralization and total distribution issues are discussed. I feel, and think most bitcoiners would agree, that those criticisms are valid, or at least worth mentioning. The criticism levied against the community for being too self-aggrandizing and libertarian leaning for its own good may be unfair, but also undoubtedly holds some truth. There was also time given to the pro bitcoin perspective on those issues.
If I had one moment that made me cringe (other than Peter Todd’s comment about Satoshi possibly being an AI) it is when Financial Times writer Izabella Kaminska gives her critical view of the currency and compares its historical price chart to a typical bubble chart. Undeniably there are similarities in their look. Both have a small jump and then much larger jump, followed by a crash. What is left unsaid is that at one time the small jump was the large jump, because it too was preceded by a smaller jump. Before that as well, was another smaller jump. The “Bitcoin Bubble” was supposed to be hit at $100, $30 and $1. The $1200 high was just the latest in a long pattern.
The narrator states that Kaminska has been following bitcoin “since the beginning” which if true, means she is certainly aware of that pattern. She either chose to ignore it or the filmmakers neglected to include it. Her comparison to a bubble is largely left unchallenged.
That minor gripe aside, there isn’t much to complain about. There are details you could nitpick (the film says “all” bitcoin users have a copy of the blockchain, when many have web wallets or lightweight clients) but if you want to give someone an overview of Bitcoin, of both its potential and its risks, and you want it to be free as well as quick, the Bitcoin Gospel is a great option. We don’t have a “rating” system here at CoinJournal, so I will decline giving the film an arbitrary grade, I will just say that I have been waiting for something like this to come along for a while, and Vpro did an amazing job delivering it.
I spoke with Ver and asked him how the experience was, it seems that even while being interviewed for a documentary about Bitcoin, he couldn’t resist making a few converts during the shooting
“I spent several full days with the film crew in Tokyo, and I really got to like them as people. I could tell by the end of their trip to Japan that they had become believers in Bitcoin. One of the Camera men was so convinced that he even traded his drone for Bitcoins while he was in Japan.”
You can watch the Documentary using the embedded video above, or by going to Vpro’s YouTube site. Beyond the bitcoin documentary they have several other high quality investigative pieces that are worth hitting the subscribe button for.
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