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Startup.com (2001)

  Directed by: Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim
Starring: Tom Herman, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman
Links: Startup.com on the IMDb, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"A rollercoaster" - a review by andy-j

It's 1999, smack bang in the middle of the IT boom, and best-friends-since-high-school Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman have a Big Idea. They want to establish a website that allows citizens to interact with local government via the internet, streamlining everyday tasks such as paying parking fines and obtaining building permits. Not a bad idea really! This documentary tracks the rise and fall of their business, govworks.com, from May 1999 to December 2000.

We watch the business go through various stages of getting up and running - firstly we see a little bit of high-level planning, then the venture capital raising exercise. We observe the company begin to take shape as more staff come onboard, the huge buzz and sense of excitement that Tuzman generates (despite a few major spanners being thrown into the works), the cramming before the big site launch, and then we watch as things start falling to pieces - the site's functionality is crippled, the competition is better, the business suffers a very damaging security breach and before we know it, the whole thing has flopped, relationships are haemorrhaging (I love that word), and things have changed forever.

The documentary is shown largely from the perspective of Tuzman and Herman, as the cameras follow them around for the most part. The cameras manage to capture critical moments in the business' evolution, but there is also a very strong focus on the relationship between these two best friends. Tuzman is a hugely likeable subject, a handsome charismatic, powerful and effective leader. Herman, on the other hand, has a head for both the technical and managerial sense of the business, as well as being an extremely supportive friend whose number one priority is the people, not the business. The more we observe this deep and complex friendship, the more watchable the whole thing becomes. What makes it even more fascinating is watching the way the friendship gets stretched in all directions when things start to go wrong.

Add to this the fact that we are watching events that were captured as they happened in the fast-moving IT world, and you're on a real winner. It's extremely interesting to get a sense of what is involved in building a company like this one. Watching the business gain incredible momentum, insane levels of investment, and then seeing it all fall to pieces makes you feel like you're on a rollercoaster. The documentary is peppered with moments of extreme emotion throughout, which serve to increase the stakes. We really get a sense that a lot of people have a lot riding on it, and we get caught up in their journey, holding our breath in anticipation of what is going to happen. And, as things start to come undone, our fascination increases because, by this stage, we're addicted to the characters and the story being told.

My one gripe is that things fall apart so quickly that we don't really understand what happened. And we really want to know. It's like someone being hit on the head while juggling, dropping all the pins to the ground and going "what went wrong?"

andy-j gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 31 Oct 2005

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