Two brothers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Nicholas and Daniel Mross, are the director and star, respectively, of the first Bitcoin documentary to hit the big screen, getting its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. “We jokingly call ourselves the Winklemross brothers,” says Nicholas, in a nod towards the famous twins who own a sizeable chunk of the cryptocurrency.
The documentary, The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin, paints, as you might expect from the title, a rosy picture of the digital currency. It charts its impressive climb from $13 to over $1000 over the course of 2013, featuring interviews with the 20- and 30-something entrepreneurs behind the start-ups that helped pave the way for Bitcoin’s wider spread awareness and adoption over the last year. The film catches a bubbly Mark Karpeles taking the brothers on a tour of Mt. Gox’s “too-secure-to-be-filmed” servers in Tokyo and a bright-eyed, over-worked Charlie Shrem fresh from his parents’ basement in Brooklyn, rapidly hiring new staff to keep up with the rush of new customers for BitInstant. It captures the exhilaration of Bitcoin’s rise, but is a bit flat-footed in detailing the more recent troubling events within the Bitcoin community, that had one of the film’s stars, Shrem, the former CEO of now-defunct BitInstant, showing up at Tribeca wearing an ankle bracelet.
Shrem is “trying to be lighthearted” about his legal troubles, says Daniel Mross. Fellow Bitcoin entrepreneurs who were in the Tribeca green room before the film teased him about whether the ankle bracelet mines bitcoin, suggesting he put an ASIC chip in it. Shrem’s under house arrest, currently fighting a federal indictment that accuses him of money laundering and failing to file suspicious activity reports with the government in response to a customer who was allegedly a money exchanger for the Silk Road. The film quickly addresses that development at its end, along with the fact that Mt. Gox imploded, leaving its customers bereft of their Bitcoins and the company facing a class action lawsuit in the U.S.
Nicholas Mross, 31, directs a documentary for the first time and says he was drawn into Bitcoin thanks to his brother Daniel, 36, a software developer who had gotten into mining Bitcoin and was among those ordering specialized equipment from Avalon and Butterfly Labs in hopes of building up a Bitcoin stash. As the price of Bitcoin makes it first big jump to over $200 at the beginning of 2013, Daniel pooh-poohs the idea of selling it, but he tells me that he did cash in some coins in February of this year, which “mainly went towards paying the tax bill I racked up thanks to my mining of Bitcoins.”
The film is a great way to meet the many young white dudes working in Bitcoin. The stark lack of diversity in the Bitcoin community is rendered visible due to its being put on screen. There is just one interview with a woman, Jennifer Chasky Calvert, head of the the financial crimes unit of the Department of Treasury, who says the agency is just trying to make sure that companies in the Bitcoin space follow the same rules as everyone else to prevent money laundering and terrorism.
“A documentary just captures real life. And a lot of people in Bitcoin are white men in their 20s and 30s,” says Nicholas Mross. “These are the major players in the space and we just have to capture their stories. We would love to have more diversity but that’s the nature of the beast.”
The Mross brothers acknowledge the overall positive tone to the movie. “It’s about this new technology that has the potential to change the way currency works,” says Nicholas Mross. They also say they had a hard time finding Bitcoin skeptics with Georgetown professor James Angel being one of the few people to question the currency, calling it a big scam.
They hoped Felix Salmon until recently of Reuters to provide a negative opinion about Bitcoin in the film, “but he declined to be involved,” says Nicholas. “It’s hard to find people with negative opinions on Bitcoin.”
The brothers are hoping to get a distribution deal for the film at Tribeca, noting that Bitcoiners have been “clamoring” to see it. It’s not the only Bitcoin documentary that will come out this year. A Utah couple who lived on Bitcoin for three months have their own documentary coming out, having raised over $70,000 on Kickstarter and dozens of Bitcoins to make it.