New doc looks at Vancouver’s cryptocurrency CEO Gerald Cotten’s mysterious rise and fall

Filmmaker Sheona McDonald talks about Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery, her new documentary about the mystery surrounding Gerald Cotten, CEO of the failed Vancouver-based cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX

Article content

Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery

Article content

When: January 2

Where: CBC

Sheona McDonald has worked in the Canadian film and television industry as a writer, producer and director for over two decades. Her films include Candice, about the groundbreaking adult film director Candida Royale, and A Short Essay on Men, about the definition of masculinity in today’s world, and what it means to raise boys to be good men.

We spoke with local filmmaker about Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery, her new documentary about the mystery surrounding Gerald Cotten, CEO of the failed Vancouver-based cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX.

Q: One of your most recent documentaries was Candice, about the adult film pioneer Candida Royale. How did you become interested in her story?

ONE: I made a movie called CBC Inside Her Sex about female sexuality and shame. But it originally started as women as end users of porn, so I talked to erotic movie stars. I met her in New York. And afterwards she said that I have always wanted to find a filmmaker to tell my story. Will you do it? So I signed up and said yes to working with her. I finished it after she died in 2015. We are both strong personalities, so it was an interesting time and a tough movie to get made.

Q: Did you know what you were getting into?

ONE: Maybe. She was a fascinating, very clever, very motivated woman, so I enjoyed spending time with her. It was difficult as it neared the end of her life. She wanted to control things and did not accept that she should die. She wanted to see all the footage. Which, in hindsight, I should have let her do. But the combination of no money and the creative power play made it challenging. Her story, what she was able to achieve within the limits she pushed, is amazing. She really took erotic mainstream.

Article content

Sorry, this video could not be loaded.

Q: It sounds like you came across the story behind Dead Man’s Switch by accident.

ONE: Yes. I inadvertently hit a movie about cryptocurrency, and then I tried to figure out which movie I should make. And I really stood up against a wall because it’s a close, a little boring, complicated, maybe academic, new concept. How to put it in a movie and make it interesting? So I tried to back myself out of it. So when I saw the news of QuadrigaCX going into suspension and Gerry dying, I knew right away, “Oh, that’s what I have to do.”

Question: You were not finished when the pandemic hit. How did it affect the film?

ONE: I had done some interviews as part of development or early footage. Then I went down to San Francisco in January 2020 and had planned filming in New York, Toronto and Montreal in April 2020. When the pandemic hit, I said: Well, let’s at least see what we can do with what we have instead of pausing all. Otherwise I would have had more material to seep through. I was curious about what makes us play, the kind of mentality that a lot of people fall into around FOMO, and the obsession when it comes to something like cryptocurrency: “Everyone makes money, and I want to make money, too.” And you use and use and use. You think you know more than anyone else, you think you’re the one not getting caught, or you want to pick the right penny stock. I had some money on QuadrigaCX. It was the only game in town at the time and I had to figure out how it all worked. I certainly found that I was quite obsessed with it. You think the heights will keep rising and we forget that the low levels are low. It was good to say, “Oh yes, me too. Like everyone else.”

Leave a Comment