(Release Info London schedule; June 14th, 2919, Cineworld Greenwich, The O2, Peninsula Square, London SE10 0DX, United Kingdom, 21:10pm)
"The Hummingbird Project"
From director Kim Nguyen comes a modern-day 'David & Goliath' story that is equal parts financial thriller and human drama, excavating the pitfalls and perils of two men who risk everything in order to have it all.
Cousins from New York, Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) are players in the high-stakes game of 'High Frequency Trading', where winning is measured in milliseconds. Their dream? To build a fiber-optic cable straight line between Kansas and New Jersey, making them millions. But nothing is straightforward for this flawed pair. Anton is the brains, Vincent is the hustler, and together they push each other and everyone around them to breaking point on their quixotic adventure. Constantly breathing down their necks is their old boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek) a powerful, intoxicating and manipulative trader who will stop at nothing to come between them and beat them at their own game. No matter what the cost, Vincent and Anton are determined to cut through America, only to find redemption at the end of their line, not through money, but through family and reconnecting to the land.
Cousins from New York, Vincent and Anton are players in the high-stakes game of high frequency trading, where winning is measured in milliseconds. Vincent is the hustler and Anton is the brains; together they push each other and everyone around them in their quixotic quest to attain 'The Ultimate American Dream'. Embarking on 'The Herculean' task of installing a fiber-optic cable in a straight line between Kansas and New Jersey, so they can yield faster trades and greater riches, the cousins clash with their rapacious former boss, Eva Torres, a hedge-fund manager who tries to beat them at their own game using a rival technology. Racing against time, navigating heavy machinery, stubborn landowners, and the elements, Vincent and Anton move mountains to cut through America and get rich faster, only to find redemption and renewal at the end of the line. The film exposes the ruthless edge of our increasingly digital world.
"The Hummingbird Project" speaks to the ridiculousness of our monetary pursuits; and the humanity behind getting rich quick. The film takes this massive, real-world concept of high frequency trading and placed two unique and unusual people in the middle of it. The story centers on high-frequency trader cousins Vincent and Anton, second-generation 'Eastern European New Yorkers' who leave their 'Wall Street' trading-floor jobs to construct a fiber-optic line stretching from 'The Midwest' to 'The East Coast', guaranteeing faster trades. The film's title suggests an inconceivable task, laying a cable in the earth that can transfer data from Kansas to New York in the time it takes a hummingbird to flap it's wings. Much of "The Hummingbird Project's" story plays out on the open road, with Vincent and his hired crew of diggers and drillers troubleshooting the line as it stretches across the American heartland. With Vincent in the field wheeling and dealing over land rights, boring through granite mountains to keep the project heading in a straight line, his cousin Anton barricades himself in hotel rooms around the country, writing algorithmic code to outpace Eva Torres microwave-tower technology. It's also an immigrant's tale set in the digital age, telling the story of second-generation cousins of 'Eastern European' descent who are trying to attain 'The American Dream' after successful careers on 'Wall Street'. After burning it all down on the trading floor, Vincent and Anton strive for an event greater net worth.
Vincent and Anton Zaleski have risen through the ranks of the financial sector as trader and quant, respectively. At the story's outset, they find themselves frustrated not only with their jobs but also their positions in life. Fast-talking and entrepreneurial, Vincent wants to get rich quick and take down his competition, including his former boss Eva Torres, who will stop at nothing in her own right to implement and patent the technology for faster trades. Vincent is a salesman who wins arguments by talking around his opponent, if he pauses to think, he could be vulnerable to counter-argument. He spends most of the movie living in the delusion that his project will be flawless, as he tries to convince people to invest in his vision. He literally can't afford to take a breath. Anton, in contrast, is an introverted quant more comfortable crunching numbers at a computer terminal, quietly longing for a simple country life far from the madness of the financial sector. In an early scene, after finding an investor to fund their fiber-optic scheme, Vincent and Anton quit their jobs in Eva's firm and brazenly embark on the adventure of a lifetime; trying to beat the very system that shaped them.
Vincent rents drilling machinery and negotiates land rights while Anton perfects the algorithm that will hopefully yield them untold riches. Vincent is the salesman of the operation who's more ambitious than he's thoughtful. He doesn't just want to succeed in the financial system, he wants to beat it by going around the establishment. He's interested in winning regardless of the consequences to him or the world around him, and while he's a smart guy, he doesn't always think before he speaks. Without his cousin Anton, he would probably be selling fake 'Gucci' handbags on the streets of New York City. Skittish and reserved in the face of Vincent's brash, live-wire determination, Anton is a balding husband and father who happens to be a math genius, capable of seeing order in the chaotic flow of numbers and data that course across his computer terminal in a given second. He's socially awkward and probably on 'The Spectrum'. His goal in life is to be around the people he can tolerate, and there's not that many, basically his wife and kids, and Vincent, who's his best friend and cousin, as well as Anton's connection to the outside world. He can shelter Anton in a way that allows him to focus strictly on writing code and coming up with new algorithms. At it's heart a 'David & Goliath' story, Vincent and Anton are the underdogs who come up against a much stronger adversary in the form of their one-time employer Eva Torres. Symbolizing rapacious capitalism at it's most extreme, the flashy, foul-mouthed Eva will stop at nothing to gain the competitive edge over her former underlings.
'The Hummingbird Project' reaches it's apotheosis when Vincent, suffering from a serious illness, finds himself negotiating drilling rights with an obstinate Amish farmer who won't yield his land, giving Eva the advantage in their race for speedier trades. By pushing himself to the extreme, and finding himself pitted against a 'Luddite', Vincent discovers that his relentless pursuit of financial gain is an untenable and even unhealthy pursuit. Vincent begins the story with what he believes is his purpose in life but his journey of discovery switches course at a certain point and becomes more about realigning his priorities. The stakes of the journey are resolved but they're completely different than when his journey started. At 'The Hummingbird Project's' conclusion, Vincent and Anton discover that the object of their pursuit, whether money in specific or 'The American Dream' in general, isn't exactly what they thought it was when they set out on their epic journey. As Vincent and Anton come to learn, sometimes we're blown off course from what we're truly meant to achieve in life. The cousins also realize they're inconspicuous in the face of rapid-fire change, this week's hot technology will be irrelevant before the next big thing comes along, whether neutrino messaging, microwave drones, or something as yet undiscovered. But does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?
By 2010.financial companies were spending $2.2 billion on trading infrastructure, the high-speed servers that process trades and the fiber-optic cables that link them in a globe spanning network. One company specializing in trading infrastructure is 'Spread Networks', founded in 2010 with the mission of providing Internet connectivity between Chicago and New York City at close to the speed of light, using so-called dark fiber, or optical fibers, to make faster trades. The first fiber-optic line planted by 'Spread Networks' ran 827 miles, from 'The Chicago Mercantile Exchange', where futures and options are traded, to 'The Nasdaq Data Center' in Carteret, New Jersey, costing $300 million to construct. By October 2012, 'Spread' announced improvements to their line, decreasing the round-trip time from 13.1 milliseconds to 12.98 milliseconds, giving Spread traders a slight advantage over the average round-trip of 14.5 milliseconds. Because glass has a higher refractive index than air, the round-trip time for fiber-optic transmission is 50 percent faster than microwave towers, the technology used by 'The Hummingbird Project's' Eva Torres in her battle to outwit and out-earn 'The Zaleskis'. The result became 'IEX', or 'Investors Exchange', a transparent stock exchange that has gone on to trade 229.2 million shares at a collective value of nearly $11 billion.
It's a story about the people behind trading algorithms and fiber-optic lines, the speed demons who take an unethical approach to high frequency trading, discovering in their pursuit of vast wealth that their lives are not made richer in the process. A cautionary tale for our cutting-edge times, the project positions two scheming underdogs up against the behemoth of global capitalism, symbolized by the ruthless and merciless hedge fund manager Eva Torres. She's the most unique person in the business. She wants to get to places before anyone else and break new ground in technology so she can stay ahead of the game. It's not just about the money for her, this is a movie about obsessions, and Eva's obsession is devouring and co-opting genius. Playing out like a high-stakes thriller that substitutes the trading floor for 'The American Terrain', 'The Hummingbird Project' becomes a glorified arms race across the country, over hills, rivers, highways, and private farmland, to implement the new technology before Eva can erect her own. She's a woman who's very content in her life, not some robot. You can see the passion in what she does. When things get dangerous, there are tantrums. But she's also heavily focused on strategy, she doesn't take a lot of time to indulge in drama. Eva wants to be intimidating toward people but she dresses simply, in a way that's not distracting. So many women her age are afraid of getting old, but Eva embraces it and even owns it, making a statement of her power through her hair. She's smart, she's fearless, she's a woman, and she's Latina, so she has to be tougher than everyone else.
The film includes a voice of sanity and reason in the form of chief engineer Mark Vega (Michael Mando), the project manager of Vincent's vision, who maneuvers and operates the heavy equipment in the field. If Vincent is the mouth of the operation and Anton is the brains, Mark is the heart of the project in that he has to make sure as chief engineer that everything is steady and stable; including Vincent. They're digging this elaborate straight line across the country and someone has to stay level-headed, that responsibility falls on Mark. He joins Vincent's team because he sees this as an opportunity to create something bigger than himself. A kind of bromance develops along the way between Mark and Vincent; at the end of the movie Mark discovers his true purpose, more than finishing the fiber-optic line, is to save Vincent's life. A good portion of 'The Hummingbird Project' involves heavy machinery, in particular the directional-drilling equipment Vincent must track down and place in the hands of Mark Vega in order to facilitate his dream of laying a 1,000-mile cable between Kansas and New Jersey. Mark Vega has a profound bond with Vincent Zaleski; even when the wheeling and dealing character is at his lowest ebb, Vega sees a human being, working tirelessly to get the job done while at the same time helping to keep his cousin going. Mark is drawn to the humanity in Vincent, he understands his desire to want to leave his mark on the earth, but there's also an underdog quality that Mark relates to, and wants to see through.
This film is based on the 2012 'Wired' article 'Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted To Light-Speed Trading'. One such consultants help make the project more comprehensible to a general audience, including a high-frequency trading expert accustomed to dealing with billion-dollar money flows on a daily basis in his former career as a 'Wall Street' options trader, is Haim Bodek, a former 'Goldman Sachs' trader. After working at 'Goldman Sachs' in the late '90s, where he was a successful options trader, and 'UBS', where he was the global head of volatility trading, Bodek formed his own high frequency company called 'Trading Machines', which at the height of it's success in the early 2000s accounted for half a percentage of all 'U.S.' options trading, a huge number for such a small firm. When 'Trading Machines' began losing money, Bodek set about reverse-engineering his own algorithms in an effort to find out why he was hemorrhaging cash. What he discovered alarmed him: traders were rigging the game by manipulating the order in which trades were placed electronically, an especially shrewd trader could effectively jump the line and profit in the millions without anyone knowing. Bodek tipped off 'The Securities And Exchange Commission' on the practice, outfoxing his corrupt rivals by exposing what became known as the largest heist in 'Wall Street History'. Nicknamed 'The Edward Snowden Of Finance' by 'The Russians', Bodek was quickly blackballed by the industry for blowing the whistle on high frequency trading.
Bodek is instrumental in helping shape the characters of Vincent and Anton Zaleski, having known and worked with traders and quants for much of his 'Wall Street' career. Vincent and Anton are two individuals who think they can beat the system. What's so interesting about this movie is through it's characters you realize this way of living is not designed for human beings, who are plugged into lunar and sun cycles. Those cycles are slow; 29 days, 24 hours. Like Vincent Zaleski discovers, our obsession with milliseconds is bound to make people sick. Sometimes it's better to slow down; you'll get more mileage out of life when you do. While ambitious in scope and a powerful commentary on the absurdity of our financial institutions, at it's core "The Hummingbird Project" is character-driven. This is the rare story about something timely and important in which the characters propel the plot. 'Wall Street' is a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers, and if you're a loser, you've no one to blame but yourself, you simply aren't good enough. Someone else is smarter, faster.
At once a high-stakes financial thriller with a gripping cautionary tale on the perils of rapacious greed, and thoughtful human drama about reclaiming life's essentials, "The Hummingbird Project" is a story for our up-to-the-minute times; where a millisecond can determine fortune or failure, and the next big technological advancement could wipe out today's way of doing things almost instantly. This film is about the amazing premise of people digging thousand-mile long tunnels to try and shave a couple of milliseconds off of the time it took to make their stock market trades. We've this haunting image in our head of stock market hustlers struggling to walk through swamps and muddy forests in their expensive suits, putting their sanity on the line all for the good old dollar. It's about quantum physics experts, fiber optic physicists, highly specialized tunnel digging experts who dig hundred-mile-long, four-inch-wide tunnels for a living. High frequency trading experts dealing with billion dollar money flows on a daily basis. Boy, what a ride. In retrospect, there's something about bringing forward what seems to be a metaphoric world, when in fact most of what's in the script is, in some way, true to life.
"The Hummingbird Project" builds on a growing body of work that's global in scope and scale yet intimate in its examination of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, often at the mercy of nature, who connect and conspire amid hurdles ranging from technology, time and distance to warfare and climate. The film is fascinated by the idea of finance professionals digging thousand-mile-long tunnels to try and eliminate milliseconds from their stock-market trades. This is a relatable and very human struggle; one that's rooted as much in the natural world as the digital realm. It's about speed-obsessed quants, the physicists, engineers and mathematicians-turned-financiers who generate more than half of all 'U.S.' stock trading. In the pursuit of market-beating returns, sending a signal at faster than light speed provides the ultimate edge; a way to make trades in the past, the financial equivalent of betting on a horse after it has been run. One of the underlying themes of the film is the elasticity of time, similar to the way Einstein explains 'Relativity'. There's something about our experience of time that's so different depending on our emotional status. Things are becoming so fast-paced that we're losing our sense of reality, and we feel it.