Tomer Kantor is a London-based film producer who, for the past three years, has been documenting the Bitcoin phenomenon under his “IamSatoshi” label. Throughout that time, he released the short documentary Bitcoin in Kenya and over 100 interview snippets — a number of which have gone viral in the Bitcoin world.
Now, after many hours of researching, filming, interviewing and editing, Kantor is finally releasing the feature-length film. Ulterior States is a collage of recordings from his immersion in the cryptocurrency culture. It features influential thought leaders in the space, including Andreas Antonopoulos, Dennis “Jaromil” Roio, Ian Grigg, Vinay Gupta, Elizabeth Starks, Brett Scott, Amir Taaki, Rick Falkvinge, Peter Todd, Erik Voorhees, Jessi Baker and many others.
In an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph upon the release of the film, Kantor talks about his motives, his expectations and the process of developing Ulterior States.
Cointelegraph: In the opening sequence of Ulterior States, you characterize your work as involving “guerrilla filmmaking methods.” What do you mean by that?
Tomer Kantor: Actually, I don't know — by definition — what guerrilla filmmaking means. But what it means for me, is that I'm a one-man team. I did the research, I did the filming, I did the interviews, I paid to get on the train or plane to meet the people, I edited it all. ... I did the whooole thing, the whole production, besides the titles.
As such, I was also often around a lot of people while filming, trying to do the sound, trying to do the picture, thinking of the questions, concentrating on the answers ... so sometimes the sound is messed up, sometimes the angle is wrong. ... That's what I mean by guerrilla filmmaking. In the context of my film I think it adds a unique quality or state of being actual, or real.
CT: The film is very minimalistic in its story telling techniques. There is no voice over. There are no infographics. There is no explanation of what Bitcoin is. In general, Ulterior States seems more to hint and imply, rather than to discribe and spell out. Is this due to your contraints, or is it a conscious choice?
TK: To properly explain what Bitcoin is deserves a full movie. I did consider having a “decentralized consensus at scale” animation at the halfway point of the film. But it seemed a bit unrelated in style to just throw it in there. Instead, I went for an audio and visual show a little bit.
I've tried to express my views through a certain style of filmmaking, where the narrative is directed but with no voice over and little text. I wanted to give an impression of how the adopters of Bitcoin are out to achieve something important, otherwise often overlooked.
CT: When you started filming, Bitcoin was nowhere near as big or popular as it is now. What made you decide to take on this subject?
TK: I wanted to make a documentary and had actually been looking for a topic for a long time. I knew it had to be something to do with the financial crisis. But I didn't have anything concrete yet. Then I read a piece in an Israeli paper about the Silk Road and this decentralized currency that is fueling an online dark market phenomenon. I have been critical of hierarchy as long as I remember, so I found it extremely attractive. Decentralization, a response to the financial crisis, and all the cool kids are using it. This was the topic I had to dive into.
CT: Ulterior States touches on much more, however. Tell us about that.
TK: There is still some stuff regarding the financial crisis in the film, but I quickly realized I had to go further than that. Now it's more about the people behind Bitcoin, and especially those in a known camp where “free” as in “freedom” is top-priority. Topics include code as activism, decentralized consensus, blockchain technology, supply chains, futurism, humanism.
CT: One part of the Bitcoin world that is notably exempt from your documentary is Silicon Valley and the startup culture. Why is that?
TK: Not interesting in the context of the film. That's not the side of Bitcoin I found attractive to explore.
That kind of “disruption” is mostly about taking a technology and using it to make an existing service cheaper. About kicking one centralized player out of the market for another centralized player.
iTunes and Spotify kicked out the record companies, and then centralized the music industry around iTunes and Spotify. In a way that's good, because it gives people more options. But let’s not kid ourselves. It's not making for a free, more equal world.
Similarly, these Bitcoin startups are mostly just creating new financial instruments designed to lower costs by a percent here and there.
But we can trust that the disruptive nature of Silicon Valley, in a capitalist world, will find ways to still stand between the poor and cheap transactions, and skim fees of the top. That's not changing. It just changes the players. That's fine and it will improve the lifestyle of many, but I would never make a documentary about that. I have other topics on my list.
CT: What is Bitcoin to you?
TK: In Ulterior States, I approach that question from several perspectives. What Bitcoin has been, up till now, what brought it to its popularity, and what Bitcoin will be in the future.
I kind of claim that Bitcoin solved the problem that it came to solve as a currency. We can now send money peer-to-peer, cryptographically secured without even the mighty American state able to tell us not to do that. That's been proven most obviously by the WikiLeaks banking blockade, which people were able to subvert using bitcoin.
CT: What about the future?
TK: I still look at Bitcoin as political activism. And in order to get good results in that regard, it is very important to frame the debate before we even get into it.
If someone would have asked us in 2009 what success in 2015 would look like, we might have said that Bitcoin would be successful if it's still alive by then. If the government hadn't killed it and the technology hadn't failed. Based on that frame, Bitcoin is a total success in 2015.
Now, in 2015, we need to frame the debate for 2025. What would success for Bitcoin look like in 2025?
CT: What would success for Bitcoin look like in 2025?
TK: I personally hope for the establishment of Bitcoin as a gold standard for the third millennium. A global standard for value, along which all sorts of local and community currencies will exist.
At the same time, we shouldn't lose track of who we are. We shouldn't forget that we, as human beings, are more important than code.
With blockchain technology, lastly, I believe we can ultimately create self-governed democratic micro-communities. Since I first heard about that idea two or three years ago, that was the thing that stood in front of my eyes. That is the end goal. That is where we want to go.
Ulterior States is now freely available on YouTube. Kantor hopes his film will be played at Bitcoin meetups and universities all around the world. Are you organizing a viewing of Ulterior States? Feel free to contact him on Twitter, so he can pencil it into the screenings calender.