Amy and I have been sponsors of the Boulder International Film Festival for a while. We’ve also been helping fund documentaries and have received several executive producer credits. Two of these films are in the 2023 Boulder International Film Festival on March 2 – 5, 2023.
Afghan Dreamers is the story of an all-girls robotics team in Afghanistan who risks it all to prove that they can compete against anyone worldwide. Working in secret in a province under strong Taliban influence and the threat of violent retribution, the high-school-aged team members struggle in the face of immense odds and ever-present danger. They single-handedly begin to change perceptions in their entrenched Islamic culture. The film focuses on three team members – Fatemah, Somaya, and Lida – who become role models for the next generation.
I met David Cowan in 1988 when he was an undergraduate at Harvard and I was a graduate student at MIT. We became friends and regulars at Maven’s Deli in Harvard Square. Our first project was Feld Technologies reselling (not very successfully) a software product called DataRoute that David wrote for his father’s law firm. The phrase “Today is the day to route with DataRoute” still hangs out in the dark recesses of my memory.
David has produced several films and called me up when he started working on Afghan Dreamers. He knew I’d be an easy mark for joining in on the film based on my support of women and girls in computing. He did all the work, so I merely provided some money and moral support. I saw an early cut, but that was before the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which added some extreme plot twists to the story. Amnesty International gave the film the Best Human Rights Film Award for 2022 at the Galway premiere, and the Woodstock Film Festival gave it Honorary Mention for Best Documentary Feature.
I look forward to seeing the final cut at Boulder High School on Saturday, March 4th.
My Sister Liv is the story of two inseparable sisters, Tess and Liv. However, as Liv enters adolescence and struggles with the relentless pressures of social media, depression, body dysmorphia, and, often, suicidal thoughts, her big sister Tess desperately struggles to save her. My Sister Liv is a rare and riveting journey into Liv’s raw emotions and fears as a young life on the edge. As Tess and her family learn to cope after unthinkable loss, they begin the heartbreaking journey to understanding the circumstances that led to Liv’s death and talk to experts to provide hope and solutions for this ever-growing epidemic.
Three of our friends—Grant Besser, Melissa Grumhaus, and Jason Lynch—introduced or mentioned Olivia Ahnemann, one of the producers of My Sister Liv, to us. After some discussion, we also decided to provide financial support for this film. We will also be watching it for the first time at Boulder High School on Saturday, March 4th.
Amy and I will have a double feature day at the Boulder International Film Festival on March 4th. I hope to see you there.
Amy and I watched Bridge of Spies over the weekend. We enjoyed it, but particularly loved one interaction between the lawyer (James Donovan) and the accused Russian spy (Rudolf Abel).
Donovan: You don’t seem alarmed?
Abel: Would it help?
At multiple climactic moments, the line “Would it help?’ got rolled out.
It had the same kind of resonance with us to one of our favorite movie lines ever (from Argo).
For the past two days, each of us have done call and response using this line about multiple things.
Brad: Are you worried?
Amy: Would it help?
It’s so powerful.
$avvy, the latest movie that Amy and I helped underwrite, is now out. It’s another movie from Robin Hauser and Finish Line Features.
$avvy investigates the historical, cultural, and societal norms around women and money. This documentary questions why women often take a backseat to their finances. Interviews with business and financial experts like Carrie Schwab, Farnoosh Torabi, Sallie Krawcheck, and Haley Sacks (aka Mrs. Dow Jones) show why it is so important—now more than ever—for women to take control of their financial futures.
The first screening of $avvy is at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from March 31st to April 10th.
Amy and I watched Tenet the other night. When we finished, she turned to me and said, “That was one big, hot mess of a movie.” I sat for a moment and said, “I’m not sure it was any good, but I’m not sure.”
I just watched the trailer. While these are clips from the movie, there’s no correlation in these clips to anything that gives you a feeling for the movie—more hot mess.
Temporal dynamics are a common trope in movies. While it’s a clichéd part of the sci-fi genre, it is becoming more common in contemporary good vs. evil save the world action movies.
After sitting for a moment, I flashed back to another movie, Interstellar, another hot mess but one that I enjoyed a lot more.
After a little exploration, I realized Christopher Nolan directed them both. As I looked through his filmography, the theme of time was woven throughout.
I’ve seen most of these movies. Memento is my favorite. Interstellar, now that I’ve watched it a few times, comes in second.
As I read Matthew McConaughey Greenlights last night (excellent, well worth reading), I felt that exploring temporal reality, a core tenet of Tenet, was worth spending more time with, which means I’ll watch Tenet again.
Amy and I went to see Uncut Gems last night. It was a gem of a movie.
Adam Sandler was magnificent. My inner 14 year old loves his puerile movies and when I read the New York Times Magazine article Adam Sandler’s Everlasting Shtick around Thanksgiving I knew I had to see this movie.
Amy and I had a calm sushi dinner at our favorite place in Longmont, went to Staples and bought some office supplies, and then settled into the theater for 30 minutes of previews. We sort of knew what we were getting into, so we thought we were ready.
About an hour into the movie I realized I was holding my breath. I looked over at Amy and she was gripping the chair. I looked around the theater and saw what appeared to be a bunch of people in various stages of rictus.
About fifteen minutes later I realized I was touching my fingernails and glasses over and over again in one of my old OCD rhythms.
If you’ve ever been out of control going downhill on skis or a bike, that’s what the movie felt like. For over two hours.
The ending was completely and totally unexpected.
And then we were out in the parking lot, in the cold Colorado December pre-snow night, walking to our car. Stunned silent.
I know some people who say they are never anxious. I know others who are anxious all the time. And many others who don’t acknowledge their anxiety.
Anxiety is a thing I’ve struggled with my entire life. I’ve learned how to manage it, and how to take care of myself so it doesn’t rise up on a regular basis. But soaking in it for over two hours was intense and it’s still echoing for me this morning.
Perspective can be a useful thing. Cryptocurrencies have had a bad 24 hours.
Last night Amy and I watched The Big Short for the second time. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must watch movie. If you haven’t seen it in at least a year, watch it again. While the events are from 2005 – 2008, they feel like they happened yesterday. And, the cast, including Brad Pitt (my favorite character), Steve Carell (my second favorite), Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling play their parts spectacularly well.
There are hundreds of lessons in the movie. But, like most things human, we quickly forget them. Or we pretend like they couldn’t happen again. Or we justify what’s going on today as “but it’s different this time.”
In 2000 I was co-chairman of a public company called Interliant. The company had gone public in 1999 and the market cap rose to just under $3 billion ($55 / share, up from $10 / share at the IPO). By the end of 2000, the stock price was at $13. I was on a walk at my house in Eldorado Springs with one of the VPs who asked me how low the stock could go. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but I remember it being something like “There’s no way the stock will go below $10 / share, right?”
My response was simple. “It could go to $0. I hope it doesn’t, but it could.”
In 2002 Interliant went bankrupt and the stock went to $0.
Now, I don’t have schadenfreude about cryptocurrencies going down. Like many, I’m fascinated by them and the potential implications of both cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. I hold plenty of cryptocurrencies – either directly or indirectly in funds I’m an investor in. So I benefit financially from them going up.
But I’m not a trader. I never have been. I never will be. It’s not my temperament. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t want to spend mental energy thinking about the gyrations of the market – any market. I don’t want to make money on short-term financial trades, but rather by helping create new things over the long-term.
We all eventually die, at least for now. Some people learn from history. Some people suppress or deny it. Many people ignore it. I prefer to reflect on it and make sure the big lessons are inputs into my thinking. If you want a quick, 128-page frame of reference on this, read The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. The cliche “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a cliche because it applies to a lot of things.
My scan of my morning news feeds included Researchers find that one person likely drove Bitcoin from $150 to $1,000, BlackRock’s Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support, GE Shares Dive on $6.2 Billion Charge for Problems in Its Finance Unit, and a very interesting post titled Impatience: The Pitfall Of Every Ambitious Person.
I’ll leave you with this.
Amy and I watched the Amazon series Goliath last month. It was deeply awesome. Deeply deeply awesome. We also watched The Night Manager which we loved almost as much. And, at the end of each, I said to Amy, “They should end this now and not do a Season 2.”
Goliath captured my attention more.It had amazing character development. Bill Bob Thornton, who I’ve always liked, was at his best, William Hurt was excruciatingly delicious, Nina Arianda made me root for her every time she said something, and Molly Parker had mastery over the role of ruthless, hateful, and utterly self-centered, manipulative lawyer. The filming, while against the standard LA backdrop, was rich and unique. There were many tense moments that just kind of hung on for an extra few beats, which I loved. Each of the eight episodes had at least one unexpected twist and turn. The backstory was complex and finally all came together in the last episode, which was magnificent.
I thought the climactic moments were breathtaking. In the back of our minds we knew we were watching the last episode. And then the screen went black and it was over.
I expect it’s easy for Hollywood to crank out a Season 2. Take the complex characters, subtract a few, add a few new ones, put in a new current story, continue to unfold pieces of the backstory, and keep going. Hollywood knows how to do this.
But wouldn’t it be special if this was it? Just one season. An eight hour movie, instead of an annual TV show.
I have no idea what the economics of the movie business is, especially with all the new Amazon, Netflix, Showtime, AMC, SyFy, and HBO series. But I am intrigued with what feels like a new type of show – the six to eight hour movie. It’s a little too long to watch in one setting but you can watch it over a three to five day period. It becomes immersive without taking over everything. It doesn’t drag you out week by week with mildly unsatisfying endpoints. And it doesn’t end up being a 13 hour bingfest, which can be done (ala House of Cards) but doesn’t stay with you (or at least stay with me) as much.
I let this idea sit for a few weeks (I wrote the headline for this post three weeks ago after we finished Goliath.) When I saw it this morning, it still felt right to me. I wonder if, as the tech to deliver content continues to evolve, we will start seeing the one season / 6-8 hour show that ends at a peak moment, rather than is cancelled because it sucks.
Sunspring, the first known screenplay written by an AI, was produced recently. It is awesome. Awesomely awful. But it’s worth watching all ten minutes of it to get a taste of the gap between a great screenplay and something an AI can currently produce.
It is intense as ArsTechnica states, but that’s not because of the screenplay. It’s because of the incredible acting by Thomas Middleditch and Elisabeth Gray, who turned an almost illiterate script into an incredible five minute experience. Humphrey Ker, on the other hand, appears to just be a human prop.
AI has a very long way to go. But it’s going to get there very fast because it understands exponential curves.
Strong AI has been on my mind a lot lately. We use weak AI all the time and the difference between then two has become more apparent as the limitations, in a particular context, of an application of weak AI (such as Siri) becomes painfully apparent in daily use.
When I was a student at MIT in the 1980s, computer science and artificial intelligence were front and center. Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert were the gods of MIT LCS and just looking at what happened in 1983, 1984, and 1985 at what is now CSAIL (what used to be LCS/AI) will blow your mind. The MIT Media Lab was created at the same time – opening in 1985 – and there was a revolution at MIT around AI and computer science. I did a UROP in Seymour Papert’s lab my freshman year (creating Logo on the Coleco Adam) and took 6.001 before deciding to do Course 15 and write commercial software part-time while I was in school. So while I didn’t study at LCS or the Media Lab, I was deeply influenced by what was going on around me.
Since then, I’ve always been fascinated with the notion of strong AI and the concept of the singularity. I put myself in the curious observer category rather than the active creator category, although a number of the companies I’ve invested in touch on aspects of strong AI while incorporating much weak AI (which many VCs are currently calling machine learning) into what they do. And, several of the CEOs I work with, such as John Underkoffler of Oblong, have long histories working with this stuff going back to the mid-1980s through late 1990s at MIT.
When I ask people what the iconic Hollywood technology film about the future of computing is, the most common answer I get is Minority Report. This is no surprise to me as it’s the one I name. If you are familiar with Oblong, you probably can make the link quickly to the idea that John Underkoffler was the science and tech advisor to Spielberg on Minority Report. Ok – got it – MIT roots in Minority Report – that makes sense. And it’s pretty amazing for something done in 2002, which was adapted from something Philip K. Dick wrote in 1956.
Now, fast forward to 2014. I watched three movies in the last year purportedly about strong AI. The most recent was Her, which Amy, Jenny Lawton, and I watched over the weekend, although we had to do it in two nights because we were painfully bored after about 45 minutes. The other two were Transcendence and Lucy.
All three massively disappointment me. Her was rated the highest and my friends seemed to like it more, but I found the portrayal of the future, in which strong AI is called OS 1, to be pedantic. Samantha (Her) had an awesome voice (Scarlett Johansson) but the movie was basically a male-fantasy of a female strong AI. Lucy was much worse – once again Scarlett Johansson shows up, this time as another male fantasy as she goes from human to super-human to strong AI embodied in a sexy body to black goo that takes over, well, everything. And in Transcendence, Johnny Depp plays the sexy strong character that saves the femme fatale love interest after dying and uploading his consciousness, which then evolves into a nefarious all-knowing thing that the humans have to stop – with a virus.
It’s all just a total miss in contrast to Minority Report. As I was muttering with frustration to Amy about Her, I wondered what the three movies were based on. In trolling around, they appear to be screenplays rather than adaptations of science fiction stories. When I think back to Philip K. Dick in 1956 to John Underkoffler in 2000 to Stephen Spielberg in 2002 making a movie about 2054, that lineage makes sense to me. When I think about my favorite near term science fiction writers, including William Hertling and Daniel Suarez, I think about how much better these movies would be if they were adaptations of their books.
The action adventure space opera science fiction theme seems like it’s going to dominate in the next year of Hollywood sci-fi movies, if Interstellar, The Martian (which I’m very looking forward to) and Blackhat are any indication of what is coming. That’s ok because they can be fun, but I really wish someone in Hollywood would work with a great near-term science fiction writer and a great MIT (or Stanford) AI researcher to make the “Minority Report” equivalent for strong AI and the singularity.