Searching for Satoshi investigates the unknown origin and true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin who disappeared without a trace just two years after launching the revolutionary cryptocurrency in 2009.
The documentary presents evidence from various tech insiders and commentators to shine a light on what director and executive producer Paul Kemp describes as “one of the biggest technological mysteries of all time.”
“If you’re in the world of technology or cryptocurrency, you’ve probably heard of Satoshi Nakamoto, but many other people don’t know anything about him,” Kemp says. “After taking a course on Bitcoin, I got entranced by the technology, but then I started asking, ‘Who is this Satoshi guy who created this thing?’ No one knows. The guy vanished. That’s where my filmmaker instincts kicked in that there was a story here.”
Kemp says he first became fascinated by the “OG of cryptocurrencies” about four years ago. After reading and learning everything he could about Bitcoin and its origins, he realized he was looking at something with huge global impact.
“As filmmakers, we try to think about stories that are going to transcend the Canadian market,” he says. “I was grappling around for stories that were global in nature that would entice somebody in Argentina or Europe or Africa or the US or Canada to tune in. This story seemed so perfect for that.”
“Here’s a guy who creates this fake name and fake personality and creates this thing and then vanishes with billions of dollars.”
With characters like FTX-founder Sam Bankman-Fried and numerous “Ponzi schemes” stealing the headlines around the crypto world, however, Kemp notes he needed to come up with a unique angle for his film, while not allowing the story to get bogged down by technological jargon.
“When I sat back thinking about how do I do a film about this, I decided to create a detective story focusing on Satoshi Nakamoto,” he says. “Here’s a guy who creates this fake name and fake personality and creates this thing and then vanishes with billions of dollars. That allowed me to tell the hunt for Satoshi story around the technology.”
Despite the tantalizing nature of the tale, Kemp admits that one of the hardest parts of producing the documentary was finding and convincing the right people to speak on camera. When they did, however, he says the results were often amazing.
“I’d be interviewing somebody and they’d say something and I’d lean in and think, ‘OK, let’s go down that alley.’ That was really interesting,” he says. “It’s like a Sherlock Holmes novel. You’re thinking one person is probably the guilty party, but then you get a little piece of evidence and you go, ‘Oh, of course that’s what happened.’”
“I went in very seriously thinking it was someone else and was convinced it was another character, but then the more I dug, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
He states that the film presents many (often contradictory) perspectives, and with evidence pointing in different directions, it will keep viewers constantly rethinking as they go along. Ultimately, however, the rollercoaster ride “makes perfect sense when you watch the film.”
“The biggest surprise is who I point to at the end of the film. Going in, I didn’t think Satoshi was the person who I ended up thinking he was. That was the craziest thing,” Kemp says. “I went in very seriously thinking it was someone else and was convinced it was another character, but then the more I dug, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
A 45-minute version of Searching for Satoshi recently premiered on The Passionate Eye and has been trending on CBC Gem. With a feature-length cut in the works for the international market, Kemp says he is already eyeing the potential legacy his work could have.
“I hope that in ten years people will watch this film and say that it was the film that best told the origin story. As Bitcoin becomes a bigger and bigger, I hope people say, ‘Hey, if you want to really get what happened, this is the story,’” he says. “I haven’t seen anyone who has done it yet. In the future, I hope people can turn it on and still say, ‘That was a good film. That told the story that we needed to know.’”
As for the identity of the person the film picks out in the end, he adds, “I’m 90% sure I’ve got it right.”