The timing of the release of Chris Hedegus and Jehane Noujaim "Startup.com" could not be more timely: the initially fallow Internet industry seems to be in a state of terminal decline, leaving the hopes and aspirations of countless young entrepreneurs bloodied and broken.
A behind-the-scenes documentary that traces the trajectory from boom to bust of GovWorks.com, an Internet site that facilitates interaction between local government, citizens, and businesses led by two such entrepreneurs with inflated ideals and dreams of instant wealth. The film is leant added poignancy by the fact that the two principals involved are lifelong friends. Beginning from the moment when Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman vacate their former careers to head-up the new media business, "Startup.com" in often painful, intimate detail chronicles the internal power struggles, the treacherous personal conflicts, and the plain bad luck that dooms the company to failure and in the process almost destroys a childhood friendship.
Produced under the watchful eye of experienced documentarist DA Pennebaker (Chris Hegedus is his longtime collaborator, Jehane Noujaim the fledgling former photographer making her documentary debut) the film offers a white knuckle, roller-coaster ride of drama and emotion. Granted access all areas, it is sensitively filmed cinéma-vèrité style to provide a candid and very private look into the world of the naive but technically gifted Tom and the charismatic, exuberant (at one point he offers Bill Clinton a position with the company) and success-hungry Kaleil. Their differing personalities make for truly compelling viewing, especially as the dynamic within the company slowly changes, with Kaleil in Machiavellian mode sacrificing friendship for the survival of the venture.
Distilled from over 400 hours of filmed material, "Startup.com" offers continued evidence of the essential nature of the documentary format. Involving characters and situations we can actually relate to and genuinely empathise with, it offers insight into the folly of human nature and the vagaries of business. As such, it is far more thrilling than any fiction.
Read an interview with "Startup.com" documentary filmmakers Chris Hedegus and Jehane Noujaim.
"Startup.com" is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th September 2001.