The editorial staff of The Cryptonomist had the opportunity to interview the director behind the documentary Cryptopia, Torsten Hoffmann, and ask for some details about the film and the crypto and blockchain world.
Having been in this sector for several years, what do you think about the evolution of blockchain and crypto? What has changed over the years?
When I made my first film, that was 2014/2015, all these people in this small industry were mostly united, they were fighting against the centralized banking system, it was like like a revolution. Now, five years later, the industry has grown hundredfold, there’s thousands of projects, there are hundred times more investors, the price of bitcoin is a hundred times higher. However, now we see that these guys are not united anymore, they’re fighting amongst each other, there’s different groups, forks and different philosophical leanings. In short, there’s a lot of drama going on and I think some of my film illustrates these disagreements.
Did the cameramen and staff already know what bitcoin was?
We used 2 American crews, 2 European crews, 1 Australian crew and then 2 Asian crews, so it was different camera people all the time. But the core team, which includes my co-director from America, Michael Watchulonis, who has been with me since my first film, is very knowledgeable about the topic. I’m the writer, so that wasn’t an issue, and it was interesting because sometimes when we interviewed these Bitcoin people, the cameramen didn’t know much about this world, they do different jobs all the time, and later they’d say “hmm maybe I should buy bitcoin, now I finally understand it”. So in the process of making the film, we were also educating the crews.
What was the most unforgettable criticism and praise your films received?
Let’s start with the criticism, I’m happy to talk about it. You can never make 100% of people happy, it’s impossible. For people who maybe don’t know anything about technology and don’t have any background in this whole movement, it’s maybe a little bit hard. The first 30 minutes of the Cryptopia film are pretty easy to understand, although I think if you’re totally not into tech, let’s say my parents and people from different generations, it is quite complex.
I mentioned there’s different groups debating amongst each other and some people said, “oh, but you interviewed Roger, so I’m not going to watch your film”, or “you talked to this guy and you didn’t talk to this guy”, which is testament of their close-mindedness, they just see their world. However, as journalists our job is to cover the entire space, everything what’s going on, private blockchains, public blockchains and different personalities, as they’re part of the story.
As far as the praises are concerned, our IMDb score now is 9.1, so people love the film. 95% of people on LinkedIn and Twitter, my friends, they really liked the film and so I’m certainly very happy with the results.
Most of the crypto-themed films around are documentaries, and hardly ever films. Why is that? Do you think Hollywood’s gonna be talking about it anytime soon?
I don’t have a clever thing to say here, I have no idea what’s going on. I’m a documentary maker and there’s a few good documentaries out there, with many more coming out for sure. That’s my world, I don’t know anything about Hollywood. Sorry.
The making and distribution of Cryptopia has followed a “decentralized” approach without relying on centralized platforms, did it involve any difficulties?
So, let me talk about the distribution a little bit. The original plan was to go to cinema events around the world, visit maybe 20 different countries and do big events, and we did a few of those in 5 countries, and then the Coronavirus stopped that. Now I’m kind of forced to release the film online, which is great because not only people in Berlin or Melbourne can see the film, but the whole world, which is a good thing. It’s also a good thing because everybody is sitting at home due to the Coronavirus.
Going back to the question, I think the challenge is that the big platforms like Amazon and iTunes take up a lot of the commission, a lot of the money, while the whole film is about cutting out the middleman and making commerce direct. That’s why I sell the film on my website for about five euros and I don’t have to give three euros to the tech platforms, they’re rich enough, they have billions of dollars. Later on we might do something similar to what I’ve done with my first Bitcoin documentary, which was licensed to many countries, allowing it to be broadcast on a television channel or an airline in order to watch it on the plane.
Do you think the blockchain can be implemented in the film industry? How? Are there any interesting projects that you are following?
Yes, I’m following two or three projects. I think it’s very early to tell because these tech platforms are the most powerful and influential corporations ever created, they have so much data and so much reach. Life without Google is almost impossible, so it’s hard for these blockchain projects to try to fight against it. And there’s also Hollywood, with their interests, their distribution channels and their movie theaters and stuff like that, and to try to build something new is a super big challenge. I’m looking forward to that world but I think it’s going to take a long time.
Do you think Bitcoin is more of a store of value or a payment method?
I think it can be both, and I definitely have a lot of content in my film about this “Civil War”. I think the store value hypothesis is super sexy at the moment and Bitcoin has been the most successful financial asset in the last 10 years. This current financial crisis is the reason why Bitcoin was built. So let’s wait six, twelve months and see if it works, maybe it is the best store value and the most scarce object ever, or maybe it was a good idea but it doesn’t really work.
I also think that in Europe, Australia and America our financial systems work pretty well, so I understand why a lot of consumers say, “my VISA card or my cash works pretty well”, but there’s billions of people in Africa and in South America who have a different experience with money and for them the digital cash aspect is probably much more important than to us. I don’t think there’s a clear answer, we don’t know it yet. I don’t think it’s in the film but I remember Andreas Antonopoulos saying to me: “Well, it’s too early, we don’t know. Money means different things to different people, whether you’re in Venezuela or you’re in New York City, it’s a different use case”. So let’s not be too judgmental and that’s part of what the film is about.