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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Shadow Billionaire

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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Shadow Billionaire

As one of the three founders of the worldwide mailing service DHL (he was the “H”), Larry Hillblom, labeled eccentrically brilliant from an early age, had a knack for business and the brain for innovation. He also had a peculiar, perverse attraction to adolescent, native girls from Saipan and the Philippines. First-time director Alexis Manya Spraic deftly explores both Hillblom’s entrepreneurial genius and the lurid underbelly of his mischievous weekend trips to certain Filipino night clubs in her debut feature documentary Shadow Billionaire.

Admired and respected by many, Hillblom became a millionaire by his late 20s, finding a niche in the package-delivery industry as one of the first to exploit an early model of globalism with his international parcel service DHL Express. Not one to hold his eggs in one basket, Hillblom began investing his millions, eventually gaining billionaire status. But as his money grew, so did his penchant for adventure and travel overseas, which landed him on the island of Saipan, where Hillblom, in his 40s, settled and expanded his business model to the East and gained the respect of locals. But after a deadly plane crash (his second accident piloting a plane), several Saipan and Filipino women came out of the woodwork, claiming to have birthed heirs to his still-growing fortunes, and as the legal suits piled up, the true nature of Hillblom’s sexual activities on Saipan soil and abroad became apparent.

Spraic leaves no stone unturned in her exposé of Hillblom. With her extensive breadth of interview subjects, from Hillblom’s old colleagues to his family friends, she documents a vivid tale of deceitful, sexual obsession—and even racial prejudice. Often painted as slumming, sly gold-diggers by the lawyers of Hillblom’s estate, the indigenous, poverty-stricken women of Saipan and the Philippines—including some prostitutes—account for “the little guy” in this David-versus-Goliath struggle for the truth. Shadow Billionaire distinguishes itself as a fine example of investigative journalism, both in sprawling, revelatory scope and penetrating consequence, proving the unspoken few may have something to say after all.

Shadow Billionaire @ the Tribeca Film Festival