From filmmaking team Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (“The War Room”) and newcomer Jehane Noujaim comes this very timely documentary on the rise and fall of dot-coms. It follows high school buddies Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman has they cook an idea for a website acting as a portal between local government and citizens. You want to renew a permit, or to pay a parking ticket? Why waste a whole day running around municipal facilities when you can do it from home, sitting in front of your computer in your underwear? It’s a good idea, and while the two partners don’t have experience and expertise, they make up for it in ambition and enthusiasm and soon enough, millions of dollars are raised and govWorks.com is born.
Unfortunately, all too often, what goes up must fall down. CEO Tuzman gradually realises that business is harsh. Yes, they’re making money and he’s making the rounds, being featured in national magazines and TV shows and even meeting with President Clinton, but they can’t rest on their success. The company must keep up with technology which evolves daily, fierce competitors and the instability of the stock market. More so, Kaleil finds himself growing apart from his girlfriend, from his friend Tom and from his old ideals. I don’t know how directors Noujaim and Hegedus managed to always be there to record crucial conversations and happenings, but that applies to documentaries in general. How can people allow to be followed by cameras spying on their personal struggles and confidential business dealings ? Well, in any case, this makes for a very compelling watch, as
the real-life drama is more unpredictable than most fiction.
Technically, “Startup.com” is a well crafted, well paced documentary with a nice balance of business and the personal, as it focuses as much as the creation and maintaining of govWorks.com as on the intimate lives of the people behind it. What got me the most, I think, is Kaleil. He’s a wonderfully complex and interesting character, which is odd to say since he’s a real person but still, he just has that special something on screen that involves you with what he’s going through. There’s a sense of a kid trying to act like a grown-up and actually achieving to project real leadership, but remaining somehow naïve nevertheless. You also feel for Tom, who seems to be even more in way over his head. He eventually does crack, and the particulars of his outing are wrenching.
“Startup.com” is out on home video and DVD from Artisan Entertainment, it’s well worth checking out.