The Hummingbird Project
by writer/director Kim Nguyen
I think it was in 2009 or in 2010 that I read a couple of crazy articles about traders in a perpetual race to buy stocks on these virtual playgrounds that are stock markets, where the stakes involved were single milliseconds, all to make billions.
I then read about the extent to which some folks were ready to go to in order to gain those milliseconds. They were ready to dig thousand mile long tunnels, raise cell towers as high as mountains, hire the most brilliant brains to shave a couple of lines of code off of the trading software....
I was immediately compelled to tell a story that would encompass all this madness.
And so, The Hummingbird Project follows two brothers, Vincent and Anton, as they face off against Eva Torres, the CEO of a High Frequency Trading firm, to get an edge on the stock market. To do so, these brothers embark on the weirdest of enterprises: secretly building a thousand mile long, four inch wide tunnel (yes, only four inches wide) from Kansas to New Jersey. Needless to say this huge undertaking will eventually challenge each character's sanity. I thought that such a premise, beyond a reflection on our financial system, offered some important insights on our relationship to time (and the constantly accelerating nature of it), as well as a reflection on our purpose in life.
To me, one of the most fascinating things about the way we brought The Hummingbird Project to life is that it is based on real science, real engineering, real things that people have actually tried doing. Incidentally, when we started filming those real machines, bringing them on location, we quickly realized that our ambition to make this movie was in many ways similar to the blind ambition of those two cousins in the story. We really did have to bring 20-ton machines in the middle of un-levelled forests. We really did have to figure out how to bring digging machines on huge rafts all the way to the end of a river. In short, the protagonists' madness became our own.
On the opposite side, I guess you could also say that the "real" story of how the stock market works nowadays has a lot of fiction engrained in it. Beneath all that "science" and these "rational" economic principles, there are myths and stories, fabricated by those who benefit from it the most. I think we have come to believe in the truth of money like we believe in the truth of Gods and Spirits: we go to bed at night, we look up at the ceiling, and we tell ourselves "it might be real, but one thing's for sure, it's all speculative."