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BBS: The Documentary (2006)

Ward Christensen , Randy Suess , Jason Scott  |  NR |  DVD
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ward Christensen, Randy Suess, Phil Becker, Eric Greene
  • Directors: Jason Scott
  • Format: Box set, Color, Director's Cut, Full length, Full Screen, Special Edition, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Bovine Ignition Systems
  • DVD Release Date: May 1, 2005
  • Run Time: 330 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0009NN6EA
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,454 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Before the Internet became the way to connect to the world through a computer, life had already started to move online. Throughout the planet, regular folks were taking their new home computers, connecting them to a modem and a phone line, and starting Bulletin Board Systems, or BBSes. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, these "Dial-up Bulletin Boards" have mostly disappeared and mostly been forgotten... except by the people who lived, loved and worked on them. Director Jason Scott travelled thousands of miles and filmed over 200 people about their stories of the BBS, resulting in this 8 episode, five and a half hour long mini-series. The three DVDs in the set are region free, copy protection free, and Creative Commons licensed. They're also a lot of fun as the various episodes cover different aspects of the BBS Story. Episode titles include BAUD, ARTSCENE, SYSOPS AND USERS, NO CARRIER and MAKE IT PAY. "BBS: The Documentary" covers the era of the BBS, one caller at a time.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OWN A FASCINATING CHUNK OF HISTORY June 12, 2005
This documentary is so much more than a bunch of nerds talking about the pre-Internet days of Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes). In this three-DVD set, Jason Scott has truly captured the Zeitgeist of the personal computer revolution of the late 1970s and early 80s.

In terms of both value for your dollar and the scope of the project, the BBS Documentary is on par with the epic productions of Ken Burns. There are eight episodes (named above so I won't reiterate them) and countless hours of bonus material about all aspects of the BBS and personal computer phenomenon including an overview of the history of computer-to-computer communication; the conflict between hobbyists and "professionals"; Fidonet, a pre-Internet email system that leveraged "networks" of BBSes; the computer art scene (previously unknown by laypeople until now); hacking, phreaking, and software cracking; and a sense of the fascinating people who drove this movement.

In the films, Jason reveals the characters of hundreds of movers and shakers from the period, including heavy-hitters like TCP Creator Vinton Cerf and Fidonet Creator Tom Jennings. Regardless of the interviewee's prominence, however, Jason presents each one with respect, dignity, and a strong sense of story.

Besides being a computer and BBS enthusiast, Jason has a degree in film, and every episode shows the polish of a true filmmaker. Unlike many documentaries that ramble or seem to be little more than soapboxes for their creators, the BBS Documentary is a cohesive set of episodes, each one with its own story arc and deep sense of content.

Jason uses historical documents, archive footage, and a grab-bag of directorial tricks (backgrounds, lighting, split-screen, and smart, copious editing) to tell his story. The result?...
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By sebffvr
What is the point of buying a DVD like Spiderman 2? It will always be available on rental, or UMD, or Bluray or Pay-per-view or Video-on-demand, or whatever other format comes along. You'll always be able to watch it.

But BBS is one of those DVDs you ought to buy, because it may be your only chance to watch this gem of a documentary. It's a tour-de-force of 250 hours of original material edited down to 8 variable length "episodes" on 3 DVDs. It's very well edited - given its length, it amazingly does not descend to rambling, or aimless reminiscing. Even the special feature "out-takes" are informative or funny or poignant. More than that, it is a labour of love by one man with the passion to capture an obscure but pivotal moment in history and the men and women that made it and witnessed it.

Some reviewers clealy appreciate the material because of a sense of nostalgia, and who can blame them. But even if you are too young or too new to computers to have ever dialled into a BBS, this DVD is still for you - perhaps even more so. It's a view of an era of computing where everything was hard, and expensive, and new; where computers were miraculous tools, not pedestrian domestic appliances.

[...] Support documentaries on the history of techology and the film-makers that make them: Buy this DVD.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant work by a man who was there. May 14, 2005
By Justin
This documentary is a walk down memory lane for anyone who grew up to the light of a cathode ray tube and the music of a modem trying to connect. The director takes you through a tour of the often misunderstood, frequently underground, always interesting BBS scene, introducing you to people who were movers and shakers, people who were quietly building foundations, and people who were just there all the time. If you or someone you knew spent countless hours playing Trade Wars, The Pit, or Solar Realms Elite - or if you just still remember your full Fidonet address - pick up a copy of this documentary and think back to a younger age.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big and heartfelt, but the content is patchy October 29, 2006
Jason Scott's independently-produced video documentary is one-of-a-kind and covers a lot of ground, making it a likely must-buy for anyone who wants to learn more about BBSes (or relive the old days when they were popular), but it suffers from a few notable weak spots that limit what could have been a much more enlightening production.

It becomes clear from the first glance at the chapter listing that most of the chapters cover a rather limited amount of territory. There's a segment on the obligatory H/P/A/C scene and a very welcome piece on the artscene (which is actually quite notable simply because it takes a scene that has ALWAYS been underground and places some of its important characters in front of a camera for a proper interview), but given how many hours of material there are here, it's surprising how quickly the material seems to pass, and how little sense of the BBS world has actually been conveyed during viewing.

Far and away the weakest point of this production is its format: It consists primarily of talking-head interviews, where somebody simply sits and talks about things that happened back in the day. While this kind of first-hand testimony is definitely valuable, there's precious little footage of anything actually happening; at the very least, a proper video of someone getting on a computer, dialing up a BBS, and reading a few messages would have been appropriate for those who've never used a BBS. With the exception of the artscene segment, where several actual pieces of ANSI art are shown, there are hardly even any shots of computer screens.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a wonderfully made and very engaging documentary
This is a wonderfully made and very engaging documentary. As with Scott's later film, "Get Lamp," it takes a complex subject and renders it into a compelling narrative. Read more
Published 1 month ago by 334
4.0 out of 5 stars "Good old times"
I was an active BBS user for many years in the 1980ies and 1990ies and really recommend this documentary to everyone, who wants to remember those "good old times", but also to the... Read more
Published on April 20, 2009 by Arno Rainer Welzel
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing!
Amazing doc. I loved it.

I wasn't "there" for this stuff, I got my first computer in 1991 and didn't own a computer with a modem until 1996, but this film really put it... Read more
Published on June 24, 2007 by Master of Cats
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings back fond memories...
This wonderfully-made documentary brought back so many great memories of being a sysop years ago, before the Internet put the era of BBSes to an abrupt end. Read more
Published on November 12, 2006 by Michael Chu
5.0 out of 5 stars Before the Internet was common, there were BBS's
BBS's were a forerunner of the Internet in many ways. BBS's were computer systems that would answer incoming calls with a modem. Read more
Published on July 9, 2006 by Jeffrey Heaton
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful trip down memory lane...
...and for some, a great way to reignite neurons that have laid dormant for many many years.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1) Do you remember PC Talk? Read more
Published on February 6, 2006 by BruinSensei
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever been a sysop? You MUST have this DVD set.
If you were ever a sysop or ever spent much time using a BBS, you must have this DVD set. It's fantastic.
Published on November 4, 2005 by Joey
5.0 out of 5 stars For a little perspective here...'s review system is a BBS.

You are, right this very second, reading a BBS.

Once upon a time, people used to wait through hours of busy signals to... Read more
Published on July 8, 2005 by HomerTheBrave
5.0 out of 5 stars OH MY GOODNESS! GET THIS ONE!
Who woulda thought that one day somebody would create a documentary about BBS's - They were such a big part of my life for 8 or 10 years and now here is a new 3-dvd set that brings... Read more
Published on June 21, 2005 by Patrick E. Harvey
5.0 out of 5 stars BBSFiles dot com - 25+ years in BBSing
Yep, I have been in the BBS scene for a while. All the information compiled on this DVD set is from interviews with people involved in BBSing for many years, even some from before... Read more
Published on June 9, 2005 by D. Rhea
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