For years we’ve been hearing about inflated numbers on the NASDAQ, and venture capitalists who throw astounding amounts of money at young people with nothing more than promising ideas. tells the inside story of one such adventure.

A pair of high school classmates, ten years out, propose to start an Internet company that will help citizens deal with local governments. They call it "govWorks." It will enable people to go online to register their motor vehicles, pay parking tickets, and do all the other nasty little things municipal and regional governments require of them. As one of the young entrepreneurs explains, the vertical market is $585 billion, and parking tickets in New York City alone generate $500 million.

Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman are the "couple" of this movie: business partners who go through all the stürm und drang of a married couple during the life of their company. When we first see Kaleil, he is walking out on his job at Goldman Sachs to serve as CEO of govWorks. In contrast, Tom is introduced laboring on the hair of a little African-American girl. We’re tempted to think he’s merely a hairdresser, but it turns out she’s his daughter. (We never meet the mother, presumably either divorced or never married.) Tom will head the technology side of the operation.

In May 1999, govWorks is launched with 8 employees. The cameras follow Kaleil and Tom through the process of raising money. We see few real pitches (the big money guys apparently are camera-shy), but we see their logos and reception desks, and hear our heroes’ assessment of the meetings afterward. In one tense sequence, they spend most of a workday trying to locate their distant attorney by phone while a $10 million offer lies on the table. The film races through the trips to the offices of other potential investors with The Babys' version of "Money (That’s What I Want)" bellowing hilariously on the soundtrack. It’s a mild surprise when a company that sent them off earlier with harsh, condescending comments ends up investing in govWorks later.

By August, govWorks has 30 employees. There are 70 in October, and 120 by January 2000. Things start to heat up: articles on govWorks appear in Forbes, the New York Times, Smart Money, Alley Cat News, and Kaleil’s face turns up on the cover of Dinero. A hostess at a glitzy function introduces someone as "former president of New York Telephone, and is now running the world." Kaleil is interviewed on the Fox Network’s "Digital Jam" show, then airs on CSPAN2 during a White House conference on the "Impact of Economy on Citizens and Government." President Clinton introduces him and guffaws loudly and long at one of Kaleil’s cracks. Later, our hero hands the President a business card and cheekily suggests he consider taking a job with govWorks "if Hillary wins."

A fictional screenplay couldn’t have improved on what real life handed the filmmakers. Partners get cold feet and have to be bought out. Top people get squeezed out and start rattling their lawyers. Security people are warned not to let former coworkers in "no matter what they say." There’s a break-in that looks like industrial sabotage, and officers in "NYPD Evidence Collection Team" jackets show up. The head of the competition visits the govWorks offices, by invitation ("The Enemy," a title drily announces), and gets shown around while staffers joke nervously about secrets and bugs … then they see him launch his Web site ( one month later.

Twice, we get the cliché of the clingy girlfriend: one talks directly to the camera about her dissatisfaction (just a phone call would "keep me going for three weeks," she bleats), another is shown pleading gently with Kaleil for more of his time. (Wonder how she felt when she saw him in the movie good-naturedly muttering "she’s bad" after she leaves the room?)’s approach is dry, the cameras unobtrusive. Producer Pennebaker is well known for his 1967 Dylan film, Don’t Look Back, as well as Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and The War Room. Co-director Hegedus collaborated with Pennebaker on the last two; this is a first feature for co-director, editor, and cinematographer Noujaim.

Mostly, they just watch people interact, whether it’s a sales meeting, a New Hampshire retreat, or Kaleil cuddling with a girl on his bed while talking to a disgruntled staffer by speakerphone. There’s rarely anything more scary than the sight of executives jabbering on a cell phone (and even reading!) while driving, or anything more arty than a dawn shot of a thin band of orange sky over the cold blue skyline of San Francisco and the Transamerica pyramid slicing up the center of the screen.

Yet the tale is compelling—not as a business tale, but a human one. The two partners go through all the pain of a divorce and shaky reconciliation in the ashes of their dream … then move on. The final historical note of the film is dated New Year’s Day 2001, so Pennebaker and company whipped this baby into shape in amazing time.

David Loftus


David Loftus does not venture capital. He has too little to venture. Instead, his fail-safe business plan centers on making it into the hot seat on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." David Loftus, Writer -


Jehane Noujaim, Chris Hegedus—Directors
D.A. Pennebaker—Producer
Frazer Pennebaker, Jehane Noujaim, Chris Hegedus—Executive Producers
Chris Hegedus, Erez Laufer, Jehane Noujaim—Editors
Jehane Noujaim—Cinematography
Chris Hegedus—Sound
Rebecca Marshall, Ed Rogoff—Associate Producers

2001, 103 minutes


2001 Feature Documentary (tied with "Children Underground"), International
Documentary Association
2001 Best Documentary Jury Award (tied with "My Generation"), Philadelphia
Festival of World Cinema
2001 Best Documentary, Southeastern Film Critics Association
2002 Best Documentary, Florida Film Critics Circle
2002 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, Directors Guild of America
2002 Best Documentary, Kansas City Film Critics Circle
2002 Best Documentary Sierra Award, Las Vegas Film Critics Society
2002 Best Documentary, Online Film Critics Society


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