A few days ago, the documentary about Afghanistan “Beyond the Border” was presented at the Venice Film Festival. The documentary was partially financed using cryptocurrencies, thanks to the profits that one of the producers of the film made with Bitcoin.
For the occasion, we interviewed the two producers of the documentary, Suril Desai of Yugen Media and Shahal Khan of Burkhan World.
Beyond the Border, the documentary financed with cryptocurrencies
Can you tell us more about the story behind the documentary?
Suril Desai: I met Dave, the narrator of Beyond The Border when I went to Kashmir for the first time in my life. I had sponsored a snowboarding +music festival called PoK -Powder Occupied Kashmir presents Krystal … a whole bunch of westerners, easterners and god knows who else gathered for a fun filled festival in the sub zero degree regions of Kashmir.
There we became friends for life. I met an entire community of winter sports enthusiasts. Satbir Singh, a dear friend of mine who I met at another music festival in the deserts of Rajasthan in 2014, was amongst the main organising committee. Nasee Khandey, was managing the lodge where I was staying, he told me he would come to Mumbai and tell me about his project. I said ok sure why not. Thereafter many months passed by but it wasn’t an entire year. I got a call from Nasee and we met.
At the very first meeting I was a bit hesitant thinking like a feared anti national. Thought what if he’s a militant or something god knows what else but the stupid brainwashing that happens to us in India against Islam and Kashmir ufff pisses me off.
Long story short he showed me the treatment of Iron Khan. I instantly said I will do it if I can’t find a producer. Knowing how Bollywood Tollywood and all other Woods function. I approached many of them but got a rejection. Determined and focused, I took the project to my father Nishith Desai and mother Swati Desai. To my surprise they instantly agreed. That green light outshines millions of suns. I took a loan from my mother and ran with it . The project was completed over a period of 7 years. You can watch it for free on YouTube just type Iron Khan in the search.
When Nasee and Dave approached me about the idea of making a documentary about winter sports in Afghanistan, I was instantly enthralled and excited to be a part of it. At the very first instance I offered one Bitcoin to kick start the project. For some reason Dave wasn’t able to deal with the complications of using the computer and then our communication stopped, so we followed each other on Facebook. A few months later Nasee approached me and told me he was gonna make it into a documentary. I was like wow how much do you need? I kept giving him small sums of money, a few hundred thousand rupees. During the lockdown Nasee focused all energies on the project and made a beautiful product. I shared the trailer with Shahal Khan who I met on a crypto WhatsApp group. He loved it and assembled a team of dedicated and committed individuals from around the world over and Italy.
A gentleman by the name of Mirko Negri did a whole bunch of heavy lifting and got Beyond The Border to be released at Venice Film Festival. I never in my wildest dreams imagined this.That’s it and now we are here discussing Afghanistan. That’s why crypto!
Why did you decide to use crypto to fund?
S.D: I wish I could have financed the entire documentary with crypto. I used crypto primarily to showcase its efficiency. It’s so easy to send it, receive it and encash it. You can send it anywhere in the world without any regulatory hassles. All you need is a crypto wallet , a good internet connection and you are set. Like the name of our documentary, crypto is Beyond the Borders. I feel crypto is bringing the world closer. It’s a great boon especially for documentary filmmakers that film in conflict zones.
They no longer have to worry about converting & carrying bags of cash to meet their production costs. Also when you have international crews it makes it so much more simpler to transact. Also unlike cash there is far more traceability of crypto (though there is a very high cost associated to trace) transactions thereby it brings a lot of transparency to the whole process. All Bitcoin transactions are public, traceable, and permanently stored in the Bitcoin network.
Why did you decide to tell this story of Afghanistan ?
S.D.: When Dave came to Kashmir he had brought some snowboards to donate to the locals, kids, young adults both men as well as women, so that they could learn and enjoy the sport. He wanted to do the same in Afghanistan. When he told me this I could not resist being a part of it. Also I felt this could be my one cent (or one satoshi) contribution to bringing peace in the world.
Though I have never skied or snowboarded, I have produced two documentaries about the winter sport culture, both in heavily conflicted regions of the world. I also realised that there are a lot of similarities culturally in the two regions. I feel activities like winter sports can bring about a lot of changes in the lives of the people in these regions. It opens their minds to new experiences and can improve their economic well being.
Also when you juxtapose the two documentaries, Beyond The Border & Iron Khan you cannot but feel a sense of hope, empathy and compassion for the people there. Even in such hostile environments they still can find reasons to smile and laugh. That in itself I find rewarding.
How are you using NFTs?
Shahal Khan: NFTs of the movie posters will be made in a limited number 1000 and auctioned off as it’s the first documentary to be produced by crypto, thus the unique number and registry on the blockchain of this digital NFt and accompanying poster will be a collectors item. NFT prices will be set at $1000 per poster and the proceeds will be used to fund a second documentary about another region where peace and cultural understanding are required. The NFT platform that will launch the sale will be announced in the next coming 10 days.
How can cryptocurrencies change the way a film is financed?
S.K.: Crypto allows people from all over the world to invest into a film without restriction of currency movement but also allows unique models of group syndication of funds as well as the ability for those who invested to get royalties on the blockchain for their investment if they invest in that type of structure. Alternatively, non security assets like NFTs can be used as other methods of revenue by creating specific ownership rights over content like quotes or images that were not able to be easily documented before on an audit and verifiable ledger.