NFT, WTF? A Closer Look at the Human Stories Behind the Technological Enigma

By Oliver Ni

When an audience member remarked that he was even more confused over NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, after the screening of Minted at the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival, director Nicholas Bruckman and writer/producer Shawn Hazelett knew they had succeeded.

A litany of technological, philosophical and legal questions swiftly followed the seemingly overnight explosion in popularity of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. After years of intrigue and research, Bruckman and Hazelett wanted to illustrate the human impacts of NFTs through artists whose livelihoods depend on the technology.

“What interested me was this idea of how filmmakers, artists, musicians, everybody needs some intermediary — film festivals, curators, programmers — in order to succeed,” Bruckman said in an audience Q&A. “And this technology, that’s really strange, confusing code, connects people directly.”

“Suddenly, it seemed to be very true in 2021. It seemed like, ‘Oh my God, this technology is solving this problem that artists have had for centuries, for decades, of needing patrons, middlemen and galleries,” Bruckman added.

The film opened with the $69 million sale of “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” a record-breaking NFT collection created by the artist known as Beeple. The staggering price tag generated immense speculation over the potential and long-term financial viability of the technology.

Bruckman and Hazelett followed multiple artists who saw NFTs as a means of receiving appropriate compensation for their work. Indeed, most of the featured artists saw their incomes balloon, thanks to eager collectors and encoded compensation mechanisms.

“Around mid-2021, when this was at its peak, they were telling us NFTs were unequivocally the way forward,” Hazelett said. “It was this reallocation of access to the artist class that had not been realized since the Renaissance.”

For many of the artists, NFTs were still inextricably tied to other ongoing material and societal challenges. Questions of ownership, theft, and fair compensation quickly reemerged on the decentralized blockchains, while racism and political struggles created additional roadblocks for creatives to publicize their works.