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Reviewed November 8th, 2001 by Dan Jones


“I'm so tired, I'm nauseous. I'm on the verge of collapse... “

Startup.com is a documentary about the attempt to achieve the American dream, and the hardships that can come along with it. Startup.com is based around two friends, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman, and their vision of govWorks.com, which would, at the most basic of levels, would “help citizens, businesses, and government work together on the web.”

I am sure most of us will remember the internet company boom on Wall Street a couple years ago. It seemed any internet startup could go public and instantaneously everyone who worked for them would become instant millionaires; companies did not even have to be profitable, the market was just that in to these new startups that they would buy anything they saw; of course this could only last for so long; the high’s were so high, the low’s were fatal. I remember Super Bowl’s past that were filled with commercials for these types of dot com companies, and then I remember the next year’s Super Bowl’s amusing commercial showing the dot come breakdown (Pets.com was a standout). Now, after viewing Startup.com I have a deeper understanding of what exactly went on, and more importantly, the human aspect behind it.

Startup.com lets you see this internet boom first hand, and in the process allows us to see closer into this blossoming and later dying business, seeing the people that were affected by this first hand; these people are real, this all happened, and it is amazing to watch.

We watch Startup.com through these two aforementioned friends, Kaleil and Tom. We see the beginning of their “baby” govWorks.com, their struggle to get a venture capitalist firm behind them, their 18-hour workdays, and the trials and tribulations that evolved from their dream. We see how their friendship progresses through the movie, and we see its near breakup when govWorks.com begins to see no light at the end of the tunnel. Startup.com is filled with tremendous ups and devastating downs; from Kaleil’s appearance with Bill Clinton in which he offers the then President of the United States his business card telling him that when he is out of Office he should give him a call because govWorks.com could get him a job in the company, to the break in of the govWorks.com office that resulted in the breach of much sensitive data. We see a happy-go-lucky group of govWorks.com workers at Tom’s parent’s summer camp, to the firing of Tom by Kaleil after a CEO power struggle. Startup.com holds nothing back; over 400 hours of footage was recorded, and we get a very solid edit showing us exactly what happened, while included the powerful side story of the mix of friendship and capitalism.

What ultimately happens to these two friends? Are they still friends? Well, these questions I will not answer to give you something to look for in the movie. If nothing else, what happens should be deemed almost ironic; and somewhat amusing in the same sense (career wise).

For a look at what govWorks.com used to look like (their original site was bought out and has since been redirected), look here. This will give you a fairly good idea at what Kaleil and Tom were trying to accomplish with govWorks.com.

So how does Startup.com transfer to the DVD format? Quite well.

Video wise, Startup.com is presented in full frame (1.33:1). One cannot really complain here as all the video was shot digitally in this aspect ratio; widescreen would not make any sense. Overall, the video is pretty soft and shaky at times; but this is a documentary, using relatively small hand held cameras, so really, all things considered, the video quality is good. Colors are not too vibrant, yet the image is good with no visual blemishing or compression related artifacts. One must just realize how this was shot, and go along with the movie.

On the audio front, Startup.com is equipped with a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and a Dolby 2.0 track. Overall the audio is pretty solid, again taking into account the method in which this documentary was shot. For the 5.1 mix, most of the audio will be handled by the center channel, with the background noise and music being spread to the left, right and rear surrounds. At times, the vocals can drop a bit off the charts and you might no know what is being said, but this is the nature of documentaries; it can get stressful. This is a documentary so do not expect your subwoofer to be pounding and your rears to be lively; it will not happen. Overall, both tracks do a good job with the audio; and neither should distract from the movie’s experience. English closed captioning is also included.

Extras wise, Startup.com gives us some nice supplements. We get the standard teaser and theatrical trailers, shown ironically in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; rest assured that this is just a stretched picture of the 1.33:1 actual presentation. Also included is “Documentations on Documentary,” which gives us a relatively short interview with the directors; getting some background experience and thoughts on documentaries in general and Startup.com. We also get detailed production notes and a cast and crew information. Probably the greatest extra in Startup.com is the audio commentary provided by the two directors, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim. This track provides a lot of insight into what is going on, along with more information then we are given in the movie. It is definitely worth a listen; watch the movie, then turn this feature on and watch it again. You will definitely get more insight.

Startup.com does a great job of presenting the real stories behind the dot com rise and fall, along with telling the gripping story behind the company name, into the people’s lives and families and friendships. I’m sure the directors did not really know what they were getting themselves into when they started this documentary of this soon to be startup; but what they have walked away with is a great documentary that keeps you watching from start to finish, feeling the joy and the pain of the people on the screen; not one that bores you of your mind. If you like documentaries, are into the computer business, or are simply a fan of film; you should really check this one out. Highly recommended.


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