In 2010, The Social Network fictionalized the dramatic building-up and falling-out around Facebook’s founding. Four years later, the documentary Print the Legend, a Netflix original, needs no fictional filter. The filmmakers assume, rightly for the most part, that viewers will be invested in the origin story and power struggles at the start-up MakerBot, one of the first companies to make and sell 3-D printers to the public.
The doc plods at first, too enthralled by the successful start-up’s underdog narrative. Three smart, mildly handsome, and goofy young white men pursue a passion, and it works. Sharply edited and brightly lit, the film is all air and glass and synergy, too aesthetically close to the tech culture it’s depicting for necessary critical distance. Fortunately, that distance begins to emerge from within as ideological differences create rifts among the men of MakerBot. CEO Bre Pettis believes that continuing to make their hardware open-source is against the company’s financial interests, while Zach Hoeken Smith, a founder of MakerBot, is committed to open-sourcing, and leaves because of it.
Pettis, though reluctant to miss out on a hacker’s haphazard glamour in order to act as his company’s head, turns out to be a talented capitalist, but loses friends and support from the tech community. One MakerBot user designs and prints a working gun. Innovation is inextricable from violence. Is it worth killing friendships over? It’s worth noting that Pettis is the only one of MakerBot’s founding members with a page at Wikipedia, speaking of open-source enterprises.