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Business Documentaries on Netflix: A Recap

By: Paige Palmer

Whether you didn’t satiate your curiosity about markets in Economics class, or you want to dive into a new industry you do not know anything about, business documentaries are an engaging way to supplement knowledge. Luckily, Netflix has a range of these films that are accessible and informative. I will be showcasing and reviewing three of these features for the next time you have a night free and cannot find it within yourself to start a new series.

#1: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

This 2005 documentary sheds light on one of the largest business scandals of the past 20 years: the fall of Enron, the then 7th largest company in the world, into bankruptcy in under a year due to faulty, illegal accounting practices and the dubious morals of its leadership.

I found personally that this documentary provided a clear story of how Enron came to be and the criminal processes that led to its demise, diving into specifics when necessary, but mostly telling the broadest strokes of the story. Because of the complexity of the situation, I think the topic is much easier to understand in this format than simply reading an article, and getting to hear from real employees of the company really ties the documentary together.

A little bit more time could have been spent on the fall and its aftermath, but with the film already clocking in at almost 2 hours, I can see how they decided to leave out the smaller details. Overall, I give this film an 8/10, and found it a compelling watch.

#2: Freakonomics

This adaptation of the best-selling book is presented as an anthology with different documentary directors taking over each chapter, with commentary from the authors in between. Freakonomics focuses on applying economic ways of thinking and tactics to normal, everyday situations, to reveal the inner functions of how the world works, from how names affect employment opportunities to why crime rates decrease.

Because there is really no narrative tying together each part, I found that it was not as compelling as it was thought-provoking. Certain sections, like the one on raising grades in under-privileged neighborhoods, were more intriguing to me than, say, the section on cheating in Sumo Wrestling, which can make the film drag a bit.

While certain sections may pique your interest more than others, the documentary is well-researched, and it is interesting to see the different director’s approach on the topics. I would give the film a 6.5 out of 10. It is a worthy alternative to reading the book if you do not have the time.

#3: Banking on Bitcoin

Taking us through the history of the increasingly prevalent Bitcoin from its earliest days in the 90s to its current incarnation, this 2016 documentary provides a solid explanation of the cryptocurrency that everyone is scrambling to learn about. After viewing, I feel like I have a much more comprehensive understanding of how the currency works and why one might want to use it.

Starting with the mysterious creator of the currency and its precursors all the way through the first large Bitcoin spikes and New York’s regulation of the market, this film offers plenty of detail and perspective. Interviewees are impressive and varied in their belief of how Bitcoin should be used; the creators of Bitcoin exchange websites, the Winklevoss twins (winners of $1 billion from their initial investments in the currency), along with those soon to be jailed are featured.

The short history of the currency is certainly tumultuous, but this documentary creates an unbiased approach at understanding it all. Despite its failure to discuss the most recent Bitcoin buzz, I would rate this film a 9 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who was as in the dark about Bitcoin as I was.