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Death Athletic: A Review

Film Review

Death Athletic: A Review

“Death Athletic” is available to buy or rent on Amazon, Google and Apple TV. It can also be bought direct from the filmmaker herself at Payment can be made in crypto.


If you can’t shake the feeling that life in the 2020s isn’t quite right, that all residual traces of excitement and expectation have disappeared, leaving only the resignation that nothing ever happens, you’re almost certainly not alone in that feeling. COVID changed everyone’s lives for the worse. All of us on the right know that and watched it happen in real time, and while the regime is now trying to memory-hole the worst insanities of the era with “COVID amnesty,” the COVID era itself seems to have done an excellent job memory-holing everything that came before. The 2010s were a decade of seemingly infinite possibility, when new technologies emerged or reached their full potential, making it into the hands of a fresh generation of rebels, reactionaries, revolutionaries, hackers, and, of course, criminals.

Edward Snowden and Julian Assange spent the 2010s in exile and in hiding in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. Ross Ulbricht spent most of the decade in prison, while John McAfee spent it on the run. Kim Dot Com had his private island raided, and Jim Watkins, owner and operator of perhaps the most notorious website of all time, 4Chan, was forced to testify behind closed doors in front of the Department of Homeland Security about his beleaguered website, which was deplatformed and taken offline multiple times. Cody Wilson spent five years battling in court for the right to publish the code for what became known as “ghost guns,” untraceable, homemade firearms available to anyone with a 3D printer. No sooner had he emerged victorious from court, he found himself embroiled in another, different kind of, legal battle, which pushed him out of the company, Defense Distributed, that he founded in 2012.

All of these men were considered criminals by the state and villains at least by the media. While most also became folk heroes, they remain to this day unredeemed in any official capacity. Some remain in prison or on the run. John McAfee is dead, probably murdered.

Cody Wilson is the one exception here, because he actually won his case in court, didn’t lose his business during the fight, and is not only alive to this day, but an active member of several online subcultures and a burgeoning art scene that’s still finding its legs.

Among many other things, Wilson was the co-producer of Alex Lee Moyer’s “TFW NO GF,” and he’s now the subject of a new documentary, “Death Athletic,” from Jessica Solce. Solce is not as much of a household name on the right as Moyer and Amanda Milius, but this film will almost certainly change that.

Unlike a typical documentary, consisting of present-day interviews cut with archival footage to paint a retrospective picture, Solce followed and filmed Wilson for seven years, documenting his life as it played out.

When she began filming in 2015, his ITAR (“International Traffic in Arms Regulation”) case was not yet resolved, and his subsequent legal troubles were unimaginable. The stories of most of the other digital rebels mentioned above had not fully played out yet either. It was a time of uncertainty and expectation about the future, and it remained to be seen if the revolutionary possibilities of new digital technologies would create a new world or be strangled in the cradle — which is exactly what the United States government was trying to do. If Wilson can be considered a visionary for taking up the fight over his peer-to-peer information sharing, Solce must be considered one as well, for understanding from the very beginning that Wilson was someone whose story would need to be told.

Their initial meeting was all the way back in 2013. Wilson has always been deeply involved and interested in online subcultures, even then, and according to Solce, their first encounter was while she was filming her only other documentary “No Control,” also about guns.

They were introduced on-camera, and later met for lunch the afternoon of the New York premier of “No Control”. Solce recalls Wilson asking her if she’d ever heard of NrX, which she hadn’t at the time, and he excitedly told her all about this new political ideology and its adherents. After that meeting, Solce always had her camera with her when she met Wilson and they began filming what would eventually become “Death Athletic.”

As filming began, Wilson was already embroiled in his epic legal battle. Solce had the vision to document Wilson and follow his life through every twist and turn. For seven years she dedicated her life to following this man around with a camera. The entirety of the project was self-funded. Then, in 2022 at a crypto/gun symposium, “Bare Arms And Bitcoin,” Solce pitched her film to an audience of strangers, and it was taken up on the spot by Samurai Wallet and via phone call several days later by Thomas Donnelly. As producers and executive producers they funded post-production and gave Solce the resources she needed to put the film together and get it released.

The film was released by Encode Productions, but Solce herself was the studio: “I’m it!” she told me. She filmed most of the movie herself and with her director of photography Jasson Hess, completed production on the road or at home, and Crystal Seraanin did the editing. Crystal Seraanin is not her real name, and Samurai Wallet are all also anonymous. So while “Death Athletic” is fully a Jessica Solce production, it would not have been possible without substantial support from the broader anon-o-sphere.

When I sat down to speak with Solce about her motivations for making the film, she told me she wanted, quite simply, to present Wilson “without bias”. “Contra Vice” she added, meaning the Vice Media group, which was bought this year by Fortress Investment Group for $350 million in a bankruptcy sale after a long period of decline.

And “Death Athletic” does exactly this — presents Wilson’s story without bias. There are no talking heads in this film, no pundits or experts offering their opinion on the case itself, the law in question, or constitutional rights more broadly. We hear exclusively from Wilson, his staff, and his lawyers.

Wilson comes across as a libertarian, in fact the entire crypto/gun culture seems to be mostly a libertarian one. I characterized it to Solce as such, perhaps even anarchist, and when I asked her what she thought about the movement and what her own personal politics are, she took the longest pause of our conversation. Finally, she said, “We are politically anti-government.”

Wilson and Defense Distributed shine in this documentary. Detractors, of course, are likely to see it as nothing more than shameless promotion. But consider this: even five years after he won his legal case, Wilson has been given no significant public platform to speak about the experience and tell his side of the story. Hundreds of thousands of words and hours of film have been dedicated to smearing him and his company, without even considering the broader work of the gun-control movement in the US. Why shouldn’t he speak at length?

When I ask who’s handling distribution for the film, Solce’s reply is “You’re speaking to her.” The film was screened in New York October 14th and the afterparty was hosted by Dimes Squares central hub, Sovereign House. It was also shown during Urbit Week in Lisbon. The film will now appear at a number of film festivals, but nothing like Sundance or Cannes. Dissident art and thought may never go fully mainstream, despite some promising in-roads, but it does appear to be building parallel institutions with very solid foundations.

Still, if dissident art is to have any chance of making a broader cultural impact, it will need many more Jessica Solces: creators and auteurs willing to undergo the thankless toil, the energy-sapping work of making connections, rallying funds, and seeing a worthy project through to completion with no immediate rewards and no promise for success.

But there will be rewards and success, I think. Not only does “Death Athletic” fulfil its intended purpose of presenting Cody Wilson’s story in an unadulterated form, it also proves that great art and entertainment is possible on the dissident right. This feels like the beginning of something new and very real.

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