HomeCryptoPBS NOVA’s Crypto Decoded: ‘Hope Film Helps Demystify Cryptocurrencies’
PBS NOVA’s Crypto Decoded: ‘Hope Film Helps Demystify Cryptocurrencies’
December 29, 2022
In recent years, there has been a glut of cryptocurrency documentaries, from Trust Machine: the history of the Blockchain (2018) to 2016 film Banking on Bitcoin, along with a collection of Netflix movies exploring the good, bad, and simple criminal enterprises of cryptocurrencies. Coinbase even made a self-referential, partisan film about how creator Brian Armstrong founded the company, which many saw as a transparent marketing ploy to promote the company itself. The question remains: Does cryptography really need a movie to advance it these days?
Time Crypto decoded the PBS documentary NOVA takes a different approach, trying to woo audiences who may be seeking real clarity. Filmed last year and this year in New York, California and Amsterdam, the team visited one of the largest Ethereum conferences in the world (ETHAmsterdam) and participated in an early test of Merge by the Ethereum Foundation. They also highlight EquityCoin, a cryptocurrency project started by Brooklyn real estate investor Vernon J. and computer programmer Akil Ash to bring affordable housing to a low-income New York neighborhood where banks were hesitant about venturing.
“The most exciting thing for me was seeing what a lot of people agree about the ‘early days’ of an emerging technology,” producer Edna Alburquerque told me. “Rather than a specific use case, I found it really inspiring and exciting to see how much energy and excitement there is in this space.”
The NOVA team did not expect to release the film during a downturn in the cryptocurrency market, much less the dramatic implosion of FTX, but Alburquerque said the idea for the film came much earlier than the current moment. The team noted that a large segment of the population had heard of cryptocurrencies but was still struggling to define and understand them. “We all agreed that we were starting to feel that cryptocurrencies were entering more traditional conversations,” Alburquerque said. “The reason NOVA thought it was a good topic was because it was the kind of topic that people have heard about, know something about, and a lot of people are still confused about.”
“I hope the film helps demystify cryptocurrencies a little bit,” Alburquerque said. After seeing the film, he wants audiences to understand cryptocurrencies as “a financial instrument” and peek inside the “higher social visions that many cryptocurrency pioneers see.”
But the process of storyboarding a narrative that mostly involved transactions on a blockchain network proved onerous, to say the least. “That was one of the main challenges: How do you visualize these things happening behind the scenes in a computer or in an abstract space?” she asked.
The NOVA team, however, was up to the challenge and had already encountered this problem when filming documentaries on topics such as the microbiome, dark energy or the Dead Sea Scrolls. “It brought me, at least as a director, to think about how many things we do today are unknown to us,” he said.
For this reason, a Crypto decoded, Alburquerque and the other filmmakers have focused on projects that capture how cryptocurrencies interface with everyday life. “Crypto is such a huge field and has a lot of potential uses in a lot of fields,” he said.
One path has been real estate, as illustrated by the EquityCoin project. “Most people can definitely relate to the fact that the real estate world has a lot of controls,” Alburquerque said. In East New York, Brooklyn, where the EquityCoin project was based, the community had already struggled to get funding from the big banks and was trying to supplant the banks with the community. Residents said cryptocurrencies were “a beacon for revitalizing our community.”
In addition to that, the film delves into the merger through Danny Ryan, a key researcher behind the Ethereum project, and also looks at the exuberance found at an Ethereum conference in Europe. “We have to go to ETHAmsterdam, which is a big programming conference. You feel the energy of these hackathons, these coding spaces where people are just excited about the technology,” Alburquerque told me.
The team agreed that it might be helpful to see how this early period of cryptocurrencies is viewed by historians: “I wish I had a time machine and could look at it from the viewer’s point of view in 20 years,” Alburquerque said.
The full video can be seen on PBS NOVA.
In recent years, there has been a glut of cryptocurrency documentaries, from Trust Machine: the history of the Blockchain (2018) to 2016 film Banking on Bitcoin, along with a collection of Netflix movies exploring the good, bad, and simple criminal enterprises of cryptocurrencies. Coinbase even made a self-referential, partisan film about how creator Brian Armstrong founded the company, which many saw as a transparent marketing ploy to promote the company itself. The question remains: Does cryptography really need a movie to advance it these days? Subscribe for the full article