International Documentary Festival Amsterdam Review: TIME BOMB Y2K

Marley McDonald and Brian Becker give a compelling look at the almost-disaster we all dodged...

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
International Documentary Festival Amsterdam Review: TIME BOMB Y2K

Sometimes you get a documentary film which on paper sounds interesting, yet not exciting, but that elevates its central premise by how well it was made. Time Bomb Y2K is that sort of film.

Time Bomb Y2K tells the story of the so-called "millennium bug", an error in computer data that could potentially have ruined the entire digital infrastructure of America, leading to a widespread collapse of things like banking systems, nuclear plants, the entire grid of traffic lights and even sewage plants. And that is not even mentioning all personal computers affected and data lost when this would've happened. The millennium bug would 'strike' at the stroke of midnight 31st of december 1999, cause most computers would've only been equipped to process data up until that date. Enter a few people, including tech-expert Peter De Jager, who start to warn people, and start a collective effort to keep a digital apocalypse at bay.

One thing that directors Marley McDonald and Brian Becker do well, is that they make a few strong stylistic choices and stick to them. They build the film entirely from found footage, and decide to not use any voice-over and talking heads. Even though at times it does revert to some common characters who keep popping up in the footage, like the aforementioned De Jager. The story they tell is compelling enough and the footage forceful enough, that using voice-over would only undercut some of the power. Becker and McDonald trust the strength of their footage, and rightly so. This is a surprisingly compelling story, told with a lot of humor, and expertly edited.

There are many common threads McDonald and Becker eke out of the existing footage, basically collapsing the story into several thematic chapters, all with their own rhythm and rhyme. There is also a lot of humor in the juxtaposition of several of the fragments, using the sometimes silly and out-dated stylistic tropes of the late nineties to subvert some of the more tense aspects of the story.

Because even though McDonald and Becker never spell it out, they do seem to have some lofty aspirations with the subtext of Time Bomb Y2K. One common theme seems to be that hindsight is indeed everything. In that we now know that the millennium bug was a flash in the pan. Donald and Becker make a compelling case though that this was a very real concern, that was staved off by the communal efforts of politics, the business world and a lot of techwizzes. They also do make a point that this panic, while at the time not unfounded, became a runaway train once certain parties became involved.

In Time Bomb Y2K there seem to be many parallels with our current age, with a global pandemic that was not prevented and a climate collapse looming on the horizon. This film is at once a plea to collective effort, helping each other, but also a warning against the way in which narratives can be seized by unfriendly parties. The film spends a lot of it's focus on doomsday preppers, and while never spelling out the individualistic harsh nature of most of these preppers, it leaves in enough dog whistles to leave an audience to draw their own conclusions. Especially when diving even further into the fringe rightwing militias and religious conservatives cashing in on the widespread panic, the film does gain a lot of forceful power. Here again the filmmakers tread lightly, leaving the audience to come to their own conclusions, and adding a splash of humor by using some idiosyncratic fragments.

They really drive the point home that this is, in some ways, a film about the world we live in now, not a world that came before it, by focusing on a few usual suspects throughout the footage. Jeff Bezos pops up, as do several other well known tech mojo's and current stars and politicians, even having a surprising thread in there about Vladimir Putin's rise to power. That all of these subtextual undercurrents are told through only the power of editing and an expert eye for what makes compelling footage, makes Time Bomb Y2K a triumph.

Time Bomb Y2K

  • Brian Becker
  • Marley Mcdonald
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Brian BeckerMarley McdonaldDocumentary

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