Startup.com

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

STARTUP.COM

6/10

dir : Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim
(documentary)
producers : D A Pennebaker, Hegedus, Noujaim
cin : Noujaim
edi : Hegedus, Pennebaker, Erez Laufer, Noujaim
mins : 103

Compelling, as-it-happens documentary traces – in intimate on-the-hoof detail – the rise and fall of an idealistic internet enterprise. The business (‘govworks.com’) is more intriguing than most, offering an interface between citizens and local government. As one of its supporters puts it: “It’s a legitimate idea to help people – and incidentally we’re going to make a lot of money. That’s the best of all the worlds.”

The key players also prove real finds: charismatic egotist Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and his slightly less driven partner, Tom Herman. It’s fascinating to watch their friendship fluctuate hand in hand with their fortunes, though there are plenty of danger signs on display from very early on. The directors make the most of their privileged access, and the results surpass Hegedus’ recent collaborations with her partner D A Pennebaker (producer here) such as Moon Over Broadway, though never reaching the standards of Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan tour classic Don’t Look Back.

The subject matter will need no commending to techno-philes and anyone interested in modern business – but the doublespeak jargon (“first-mover advantage” . “we need to have a strategy discussion”. “I’m in the zone, mom”) never gets out of hand, and non-insiders should generally be able to follow what’s going on. The characters of the participants are strong enough to make for an absorbing watch – though Kaleil and Tom are by no means always likeable. “Even if it was a fatal lesson, we both still live in nice homes and we’ll both move on to great jobs,” intones a smug Kaleil when things are looking bleak. The highlight is a televised future-of-e-business conference in which Tuzman meets Bill Clinton – and, in a typical display of gung-ho chutzpah – invites the President to become govworks.com’s Chief Executive Officer. It’s also the highpoint for the govworks boys – afterwards, it’s downhill all the way at an alarming rate of knots to the almost-too-ironic conclusion in which their current activities are revealed.

25th August, 2001
(seen Aug-22-01 on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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