By Gregory Crofton
If you know documentaries, surely you’ve seen director Chris Smith’s classic “American Movie” (1999), about a fledgling director and his best friend living in Wisconsin working to finish a short horror film called “Coven.”
More than 20 years on, Smith and his production company Library Films have become an important part of a booming doc industry. Some of his recent releases include “Fyre,” “Tiger King,” “100 Foot Wave,” “Sr.” and now “Branson,” a four-part documentary streaming on HBOMax.
I wasn’t eager to watch “Branson.” Most people already know that Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin industries, is a flagrant self-promoter forever angling to grow his business empire. He owns an airline, hotels and is currently working to launch Virgin Galactic, a wannabe space travel business.
But what’s interesting about this nonfiction project is it successfully gets at the complexity of Branson’s personality, and likely at the complexity of other billionaires. It is important to study these people. They are determining some of the paths of civilization now.
Branson is, above all, a hard-nosed business man who benefits from his own relentless optimism and knack for daredevil stunts that promote his “brand.” So is this documentary series just another stunt to help launch Virgin Galactic? Probably.
But Branson trades access to his life for other reasons too. He thinks he’s lived an interesting and full one, but what’s the point of if you don’t share so people can learn from it?
That’s a pretty philosophically sound argument and it’s also a classic example of how Branson operates. He’s adept at making logical suppositions on how he can improve your life. In other words he’s a great salesman.
Does that mean he’s a creep? You won’t be able to answer that question after watching this doc, but you will learn where Sir Richard Branson came from, how he came to be, and what he seems to be like.