HBO docuseries The Anarchists underdelivers

The Anarchists Featured

HBO’s docuseries suffers from rehashing too much information viewers already know.

In 2015, documentarian Todd Schramke began following a group of anarchists led by Jeff Berwick, who soon became an online personality pushing non-traditional, to say the least, ideas. Berwick, an entrepreneur-turned-libertarian-turned-cryptoinvestor, fell in love with this idea of anarchy, the decentralization of banking, the unschooling movement, and most essentially, with Acapulco, Mexico. Schramke followed Berwick and his growing crowd of supporters for the following six years, and HBO’s The Anarchists resulted from that half-decade of time spent. With endless footage and dozens of big personalities, Schramke armed himself to weave a great story, only to end up telling one that feels oddly–and awfully–ordinary.  

Regardless of Schramke’s commitment to documenting this community, the HBO show follows a chronological series of events throughout its lone season, always hinting at revelations down the road. Featuring consistent voiceover on his footage and recent interviews with these ancaps, as they call themselves, The Anarchists can cause glazed eyes and a sense of déjà vu for anyone that has been reading the news over the last few years. It doesn’t transcend today’s current events. Though that shouldn’t be a barometer of success, it’s tough to fully invest in a horde of people committed to yelling, “Fuck the government,” with shots in their hands and Bitcoin in their pockets — the two traits of most anarchists.  

The Anarchists Acapulco view
The Anarchists’ utopia from the air. (HBO)

That’s the issue with Schramke’s six-part docuseries: it winds up being a time capsule of semi-radical ideas. With the increase in radical visibility since November 2016, these anarchists often seem on the tamer side, living in another country, partying the nights away while getting rich off the cryptocurrency boom of the last four years. Unfortunately, their wealth remains entirely dependent on a volatile, digital coin that harms the environment and leaves many flailing when the tide turns.  

The Anarchists suffers and drudges its way through a story that fares better as a news story than a six-part docuseries.  

As expected, this community of anarchists doesn’t achieve their utopian dreams. Drugs and violence follow them around Acapulco, especially as more fanatical and militaristic members flock to the supposed paradise. The series attempts to transform into a pseudo-thriller, a real-life look at those who hope to live without rules, with their ideals of “full freedom,” though they all seem hooked on crypto. With episodes averaging a little over 50 minutes, it becomes a slog, a repetitive series of interviews with people that don’t deserve a larger platform than they already feel they’re entitled to — a piece of documentary filmmaking that doesn’t hold the power it hopes.  

These “anarchists” have infiltrated a touristy city in Mexico, but their impact remains negligible. They aren’t influencing the political landscape. Social media remains an odd metric to measure scale, but it’s not irrelevant, and the Anarchapulco page on Instagram has a little over 7,000 followers as of July 2022. With rising far-right factions popping up and conspiracy theorists finding microphones and audiences, the anarchists of Acapulco seem to be a tiny contingent amongst a much more anticapitalist movement.  

The Anarchists Sign
Visual metaphor. (HBO)

Schramke’s project succeeds when the camera continues rolling, when the voiceover trails off, and the interviewees remain silent, unsure what to say or how to act. The sheer amount of footage is astonishing, but the subjects just don’t continue to be interesting after spending nearly six hours with them. The shock value lessens, the conspiracy theories become redundant, and their more recent COVID protests and hesitancies aren’t anything new. These anti-bankers and anti-schoolers will likely keep spouting their conspiracies, regardless of Schramke’s camera.  

The Anarchists represent a larger wave of these kinds of docuseries, lenses into communities that used to be on the fringe. But they aren’t anymore. They’re out in the open, and the outspoken nature of these anarchists lessens the impact of Schramke’s and others’ works. Despite his dedicated time in Acapulco, the documentarian struggles to escape the current state of affairs. Call it bad timing or just an idea that never became what it could have been, but The Anarchists suffers and drudges its way through a story that fares better as a news story than a six-part docuseries.

The Anarchists infiltrates HBO on July 10.

The Anarchists Trailer:

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