Upcoming documentary tackles blockchain’s potential beyond cryptocurrency

Say “blockchain” and most people think “Bitcoin.” But cryptocurrencies only scratch the surface of what blockchain can do, and a soon-to-be-released documentary aims to chronicle the activists and entrepreneurs leveraging the technology daily.

“Open-source blockchain is being used to implement new ways of voting, to monitor corruption, provide transparency in the way financial aid is distributed, to make bank services more accessible ... We are not far off living in a world without third parties or central authorities and their often unnecessary and even malign influence,” Marek Osiecimski, the director of the forthcoming film “Decent,” told “Advisors Magazine” during a recent interview. “The moment to capture that change, and tell the world about that set of values is now.”

bangladesh slums200x300“Decent” – which is still crowdfunding to film additional segments – will showcase blockchain users across the world from Bangladesh to Venezuela. At the film’s core lies a message of decentralization and blockchain’s ability to break people away from authorities and centralized decision-making systems. The film’s subjects also will explain how blockchain works without the jargon-laden language experts often fall back on.

The filmmakers hope to release “Decent” in September, although funding targets need to be met before that can happen. The plan calls for $38,500 to complete filming in Venezuela, where victims of that country’s ongoing implosion are using blockchain to access overseas funds, and Brazil, where a non-profit teaches blockchain to youth in the favelas. Additionally, the filmmakers need $13,600 for a follow-up trip to Puerto Rico to circle back to one of the film’s central characters, who has been “abandoned” by his investors since his first interview a year ago. Finally, the film will require $51,000 for post-production and promotion. If filmmakers can raise the $103,100 needed then audiences will be able to see “Decent” come fall at the latest.

decentdoc team438Blockchain’s complexity often baffles the uninitiated and, worse yet, can appear so opaque that lay people write it off as all style and no substance. “Decent’s” aim is not to explicitly define blockchain down, but many subjects profiled describe how the technology works in their own words; Osiecimski said that he wanted blockchain simplified to “something that our parents would understand.” A simplified view of blockchain also demonstrates its power to improve the lives of people often excluded from traditional financial systems or networks, and who often get passed over during discussions on new technology.

decent still300“This is not some esoteric or elite technology for the few. At its very source lies democratization – decentralization – and thus the empowerment of the user,” Osiecimski said. “Fighting with financial exclusion is in my opinion one of the most important features of blockchain and its implications for countries like Venezuela, especially now – when history is taking place on the streets of Caracas – are obvious.”

Caracas entered the fifth day of an almost-complete blackout at the time of this writing and the bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, has become worthless in the city’s numerous black markets. The country’s socialist government has blamed a “U.S. cyber attack” for the chaos, but Bloomberg News reported that few citizens believe this, and point instead to the Venezuelan government’s poor infrastructure maintenance record and failed economic policies. Regardless, Venezuelans have been forced to rely on foreign currencies such as the U.S. dollar or Colombian peso to buy basic staples, and getting money in and out of the country has become extremely difficult as conditions worsen.

moquoteEnterprising Venezuelans, however, have successfully used cryptocurrencies to transfer money internationally and soften the blow from hyperinflation – the bolivar hit an inflation rate of 80,000 percent annually in 2018, according to “Forbes.”

“We have not reached Venezuela yet, but we have already spoken with many Venezuelans and they all agree that blockchain works well for people in their country affected by hyperinflation,” Osiecimski said.

The film aims to be more than a “sugary” paean to blockchain, he added. The film also will turn a lens on the charlatans who trump up blockchain and cryptocurrencies while in actuality trying to make a fast buck. As a new technology, blockchain has yet to reach its full potential, and that leaves space for empty promises and cons, even as the technology greatly improves the lives of people around the world.

“It can improve connectivity in such densely populated countries like Bangladesh. It can improve voting procedures and restore a sense of strength to an individual vote. So you can see that this technology can be close to people and their needs resulting from the current problems of the world,” Osiecimski said. “This, however, creates some traps that we also talk about in the film. Where there is poverty and suffering, people crave for hope and for fresh air and this opens up room for false hopes given by false prophets. Blockchain is only a tool, and it can be used for evil purposes in the hands of evil people.”

The good, the bad, and the ugly of blockchain all find a voice in the film, he added.

“We do not avoid talking about such matters. We want viewers to have a holistic view of the subject,” Osiecimski said.

crypto465x300Cryptocurrencies once captured news headlines and public imagination. Bitcoin peaked in 2017 at $19,783.06 – its price has remained stable in 2019 at between $3,500 and $4,000 – and then collapsed, and with the drop in price came a corresponding decline in public interest. Insiders’ inability to connect with ordinary people during the boom times by explaining the underlying value of blockchain beyond its use in cryptocurrencies now has left the industry unable to reignite public interest.

“When I worked in this industry, I noticed that the elite of the space does not care too much for translating the basics. I have often witnessed ordinary arrogance towards people who are not technologically oriented,” Osiecimski said. “It was a huge mistake that backfires now, when the ICO hype and world's excitement for cryptocurrencies is pretty much gone.”

The social functions of cryptocurrency never entered the public discussion, either. The desire for quick money and speculation drove up the price of Bitcoin, but improving quality of life rarely made its way into these discussions, except among policy and technical wonks.

“Cryptocurrencies can play an important social function, looking at them only through the prism of speculation is superficial,” Osiecimski said. “In such world regions as Latin America, Africa or southeast Asia they can significantly contribute to improving the quality of life of many people. Our film will certainly show this issue in a more balanced way.”

The filmmakers also were careful to steer clear of what Osiecimski described as a sort of religious fervor among some blockchain advocates. Rather than being a panacea to save the world, blockchain, in his view, is simply a useful tool. Albeit, it is a tool he hopes society decides to use for good.

“It's up to people ultimately to decide what shape it will take and what purposes it will serve. It's people who have free will and creativity and if I have to believe in something, I want to have faith in them,” he said. “Some will call me a naive fool … But I believe that mankind will do everything to use the available tools and save the world. I have to believe it, because what is the alternative?”

For more information on “Decent” see: "Decent Documentary."

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