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A peek into the brains of the world’s richest man

Saturday October 19 2019

Bill Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates on November 6, 2018. PHOTO | NICOLAS ASFOURI | AFP 

Eugene Mbugua
By Eugene Mbugua
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Have you ever wondered what goes on in the brain of a man who for most of the last few decades has been the richest in the world? Well, a new documentary that premiered on Netflix recently promises to show you just that.

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates is a three-part documentary series totalling 159 minutes that delves not just into Gates’ wealth and work but also his upbringing, his marriage and the villainisation that his work and money has often resulted in.

WRANGLES

The film, directed by Academy Award winner Philip Davis Guggenheim, starts off with a quick-fire series of questions that tell you a few things about the man from his favourite animal to what he has for breakfast. More interestingly, the director delves into Gates’ childhood through interviews from his sisters and childhood friends.

We learn that Gates was a trouble child and constantly had wrangles with his mother. Wrangles that took the intervention of the whole family and a psychologist to fix.

Guggeinham has quite a number of celebrated documentaries under his belt, among them An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud, From the Sky Down, He Named Me Malala and A Road We’ve Travelled about Barack Obama.

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In Inside Bill’s Brain, the director conducts the interview in settings that Gates is comfortable with; walking in different parks and playing card games in Gates’ house. To make the interview more comfortable, he employs an interesting filming technique where the camera is more often than not behind them instead of in front of them.

PERSONAL LOSS

Most of the documentary focuses on Gates’ work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which Gates and his wife set up after he took a less active role in Microsoft.

Work aside, perhaps the closest you get to Bill’s brain is when he and the director discuss personal loss. Gates quite sombrely talks about the death of his childhood friend and partner in crime, Kent Evans, who died from a mountaineering accident while they were still in high school.

Next is the loss of his mother Mary Gates, who succumbed to cancer in 1993.

The final loss that they deal with is that of his Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. The relationship of the two friends had seen some rocky times and was just getting repaired when he too died of Cancer in 2018.

While the documentary series is intriguing, Inside Bill’s Brain often feels like a long public relation video.

Sure we learn about Gates’ food preferences and how close his brain is to a computer UPS but the documentary fails at showing us an intimate deep look at who he is as a person. One is left with the feeling that a lot was skirted around.

GENIUS

That it is a well done narrative meant not to paint him as human but as genius and hero.

Film critic Bredan Gallagher writing for the Daily Dot, puts it well, “There is a thin line between access documentary and self-serving hagiography. Netflix docuseries Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates is so far on the wrong side of the line that it is basically an infomercial for Gates, enlightened billionaire.”

Despite this, the series is a worthy watch and you can be the judge as it’s now streaming.

The Writer is an award winning film maker and the Executive Producer of TV shows Young Rich, Get in the Kitchen, Stori Yangu, Our Perfect Wedding and Foods of Kenya.

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