The Bitcoin Field Guide
Jun 18, 2022
Darcy Weir and Ryan Laplante
Ben Armstrong. Joseph Shew, Andy Packer
As timing goes, releasing The Bitcoin Field Guide during the biggest crash in Bitcoin’s history feels akin to The China Syndrome coming out right as the Three-Mile Island disaster unfolded. It’s oddly appropriate for this enthusiastic and pro-crypto documentary to release during one of the digital currency’s bipolar downswings, given that it is let down by what it doesn’t say despite informative and entertaining content.
The documentary covers the history of cryptocurrency, with a focus on Bitcoin itself – advocating for its technological benefits as well as the benefits to its owners. Contributions come from crypto-enthusiasts who explain how crypto works and has changed their lives. The clear message is that cryptocurrency is the future of finance, and the advice provided to viewers will allow for any to jump aboard the gravy train. What could possibly go wrong?
The mark of a great documentary is making a subject interesting to someone who has no prior knowledge or passion for it. The Bitcoin Field Guide half achieves this – invoking an immense amount of technical verbiage that will come across as gibberish to anyone outside the crypto-world. But it smartly allows contributors such as Ben Armstrong or Joseph Shew to break-down complex theories and concepts into layman’s terms. Comedy segments courtesy of Andy Packer are also an entertaining demonstration of these in action – and parody the more visible and relatable encounters the average viewer is likely to experience with cryptocurrency. The subject matter demands a technical focus – but for what is meant to be a ‘field guide’, non-experts will find themselves lost a little too often.
This is not due to the actual structuring or the content of the documentary, that manages to make weird computer money vibrant and exhilarating. Fast-paced editing, and a wise choice of stock footage from director Darcy Weir keeps audience’s attentions somewhat stimulated, in the same way that dogs get a bone to shut them up during a Zoom meeting. There are some clever edits that demonstrate crypto’s growing validation in the economy as well – with previously sceptical politicians and bankers shown up as hypocrites as prior condemnation is intertwined with their own embrace of bitcoin when they see they can make a buck from it. At least it’s not just the working class suffering from the crash…
The talking heads are a mixture of intelligent and informative advocates for crypto like Joseph Shew, who make a reasoned case for the technology and genuine uses for cryptocurrency throughout the world. But these are undermined by stereotypical ‘crypto-bros’ who offer nothing but their own weed-inspired scepticism of modern banking, or fixed conviction that Bitcoin is about to overthrow fiat currency. The documentary allows viewers to pick who and what they believe – but some of the contributions serve only to reinforce crypto-sceptic viewers who will roll their eyes faster than an altcoin collapse.
But this guide’s biggest failure is the elements of cryptocurrency that it omits. There is no mention of the catastrophic impact on the environment that comes with crypto. And warnings of the risks that come with investing get only passing mentions – with stories prefaced that those who lose out tend to be the ones who don’t do research – rather than those who get taken in by con-men or who get blinded by mythology of the true-believers who won big. For a ‘guide’ to bitcoin, it feels like a rather significant and telling omission.
The Bitcoin Field Guide is not a bad documentary – and provides an informative and entertaining perspective on cryptocurrency. But heavy bias in crypto’s favour lets down what should be its purpose: to inform audiences of the issues surrounding its subject in their entirety. It’s unfortunate that it is to be released mid-crash – but blind faith leads down unpleasant roads.