While there’s a great deal of information available on Bitcoin (such as Jameson Lopp’s curated “Bitcoin Resources” collection), much of it is written information, which tends to require significant time and effort to process. If you don’t have a lot of time to delve into an in-depth study of Bitcoin - or if you’d like to introduce Bitcoin to someone else in the smoothest and most entertaining way possible - then a good Bitcoin documentary is your best option.
Documentaries can be a great way to learn more about a subject. Especially for a subject as complex as Bitcoin, a good documentary which presents relevant information in a compelling cinematic format, will greatly accelerate learning and recollection. If you’re interested in Bitcoin and looking to learn more about it; like how it works, its history, the people or companies involved, and so on, then we have several great documentaries to recommend!
The Monetary Foundations
Before getting into how Bitcoin works, it makes a lot of sense to examine how the regular monetary system works. All those paper bills and electronic bank balances we spend so much of our lives chasing; where do they come from and what gives them value? The answers to these questions are rather mind-blowing, and go a long way towards explaining the need for an alternative like Bitcoin.
Mike Maloney’s Hidden Secrets of Money series is an excellent 8 part series which offers a comprehensive analysis of money. It’s available for free on Mike’s site or on YouTube. The 4th episode, “The Biggest Scam in the History of Mankind,” really gets into how the central banking system works, simplifying and exposing an extremely complex and shadowy system, with the help of some great graphics and concise explanation.
Although Mike is in the business of selling precious metals as an alternative to “fiat money” - a term you’ll certainly understand after viewing his series - in the 8th and final episode Mike does cover cryptocurrencies. His explanation of the Byzantine Generals problem (essentially the problem of trust in a decentralized network, which Bitcoin solved), is another great example of documentary film-making.
After watching The Hidden Secrets of Money, you’ll have an understanding of the current monetary environment, as well as a sound basis for comparison between fiat and crypto. However, as the series doesn’t provide much detail on Bitcoin itself, you’ll definitely want to watch at least a couple more documentaries...
The Early Days
The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin is an American documentary which was released in October of 2014. The director, Daniel Mross, has been personally involved in Bitcoin since 2011. The film opens in mid-2012 with Daniel in his basement, surrounded by his many Bitcoin miners. Over the course of the film, Daniel explains the meaning, workings, and potential of Bitcoin. He also briefly covers his own history and what got him involved in the technology at such an early stage.
The documentary follows Daniel, filmed by his brother, Nick, on an extensive tour around the US and Japan. The brothers undertake this journey to interview several well-known individuals in the Bitcoin industry. These personalities include:
- Gavin Andresen (who worked alongside Satoshi on the Bitcoin Core project),
- Charlie Shrem (founder of the now-defunct broker, BitInstant),
- Mark Karpeles (CEO of the failed Mt. Gox exchange),
- Erik Voorhees (creator of SatoshiDICE and Shapeshift),
- Vitalik Buterin (prior to his creation of Ethereum),
- and Brian Armstrong (founder of Coinbase).
The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin has an endearing personal touch to it, as Daniel’s enthusiasm for Bitcoin really shines through. This documentary does a great job of explaining its subject matter, with the assistance of high-quality animated sequences. It’s a fascinating look at the times in which Bitcoin was starting to gain real traction.
The film may be purchased from its official site.
Considering the Implications
Banking on Bitcoin is a documentary directed by Christopher Cannucciari, which was released in March of 2017. It opens with Charlie Shrem talking about his impending prison sentence - he sentenced for facilitating transactions relating to Silk Road while at BitInstant. The intersection of Bitcoin and the legal system is one of many recurring themes.
The documentary goes on to explain Bitcoin, with input from notable experts, such as Gavin Andresen. However, the film’s focus is a lot wider than Bitcoin’s technology. Besides numerous industry players interviewed in the Rise and Rise of Bitcoin, numerous prominent individuals from outside the space contribute their perspectives and insights to the film, including:
- David Chaum (one of the original cypherpunks),
- libertarians such as Rand Paul (the US politician) and Jeffrey Tucker (political author),
- Andy Greenberg and Nathaniel Popper (both prominent tech journalists),
- Wences Casares (PayPal board member and Xapo CEO),
- Blythe Masters (former exec at JP Morgan, now CEO of a blockchain company),
- Benjamin Lawsky (a former New York financial regulator known for developing the state’s “BitLicense” law).
As you’d expect from such a diverse panel of experts, this documentary covers Bitcoin from a multiplicity of angles. This documentary explores the impact of Bitcoin on the wider world; not just how it evolves our concept of money but how it changes finance, politics, law, and so on. One unfortunate aspect of the film is that it ends with footage of Craig Wright, who claimed to be Satoshi Nakomoto without providing any legitimate evidence.
This film is available on Netflix.
The Life of a Miner
Life Inside a Secret Chinese Bitcoin Mine is a short, 10 minute documentary produced by Vice’s technology arm, Motherboard. Filmed in October of 2014, this documentary offers an entirely different perspective on Bitcoin from those films covered above. Instead of interviewing predominantly American thinkers, businesspeople and technologists, this film opens a window on the mysterious Chinese mining industry. Such miners are an integral part of Bitcoin, although their views and experiences often go unconsidered.
Motherboard visited a series of mining facilities in Liaoning, a rural province in the Northeast of China. The mines were all owned by a group of 4 people, who collaborated to establish the first site and quickly expanded as it proved highly profitable. At the time, their six mines represented roughly 3% of Bitcoin’s hashrate.
Although the mining industry has grown tremendously since this documentary was filmed, certain aspects of the Chinese mining industry remain similar, such as the tricky relationship between miners and authorities or power producers. This short documentary is well worth watching, as it offers a unique and interesting view into the realities of Bitcoin’s mining side.
This documentary is freely available on YouTube.
Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain is a new documentary directed by Alex Winter, a former actor who also directed Downloaded (dealing with online piracy) and Deep Web (which covers the anonymized internet accessible through Tor, with a focus on the Silk Road darknet marketplace where bitcoins were first traded for contraband goods). Both of Winter’s previous tech documentaries will probably appeal to those with an interest in cryptocurrency. His latest film deals more directly with the blockchain technology introduced by Bitcoin.
The film is not yet available for purchase or public viewing, but may be seen at a special screening being held in Los Angeles on the 16th of November 2018. Although we haven’t yet seen this film, judging from the early reviews and plot synopsis, it promises to be a fascinating documentary with high production values.