Thai Director Sees Upside to Piracy

Apichatpong Weerasethakul - 43rd Sitges Film Festival - 2010
Robert Marquardt/Getty Images

BIFF keynote speaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul says illegal copying can help fight censorship.

BUSAN, South Korea -- Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul said there can be virtues in piracy, as it can provide an alternative to censorship issues, also suggesting major studios could learn from the independent industry’s embrace of this under- ground culture.

“A benefit of piracy is that it can be a sort of window,” the interna- tionally acclaimed helmer said Monday during his keynote speech at BIFF’s inau- gural edition of the Busan Cinema Forum.

He cited the example of the Sundance- winning documentary Enemies of the People. Though the Cambodian film was banned in its home country, a wide release in the U.S. made pirated DVDs largely available in Cambodia. “My (Cambodian) friend said it will have a big impact on changing people’s view of history.” Many movies make their way to Thai audiences through similar channels, largely due to strict censorship and affordability.

“The (Thai) audiences don’t care about image quality and

have no attachment to film aesthetics,” Weerasethakul said, explaining that video CDs (aka VCDs) are even more popular than DVDs because they are “watchable, disposable and affordable.”

However, piracy is usually limited to Hollywood imports, a phenomenon that is not without political implications geared “to bring down capitalism and educate third-world filmmakers to learn about films that were locally banned.”

Nevertheless, Weerasethakul said he was initially angered to find pirated copies of his Cannes Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, since there is “a secret agreement not to pirate local movies.” He eventually found an upside in it, noting that Thai movies have achieved a status that is “worth duplication, equal to their Western counterparts.”

The filmmaker pointed out that the indepen- dent film industry has come to embrace piracy because it depends on it for distribution. He urged studios to do the same.

“Independent filmmakers have already assim- ilated into the system and it’s a matter of how studios will work with it,” he said. “Studios can learn from how pirated DVDs engage so many people with low prices and wide availability.”

Yet Weerasethakul conceded however, that many piracy networks are linked to terrorism and organized crime, where DVDs are sold to buy weapons and explosives. “Free booting is a crime we have to deal with,” he said.

The Busan Cinema Forum continues through Wednesday at the Haeundae Grand Hotel.