Directed by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
Official Selection, 2015 Busan International Film Festival
Best Documentary, 2015 Subhanahongsa Awards
Piracy has been a part of cinema from its very beginnings. Where films couldn’t be shown or found legitimately, pirates would fill the gaps. THE MASTER tells the story of how one mysterious, bespectacled video pirate completely changed Thai film culture in the late ‘90s, inspiring a whole generation of directors, critics, and exhibitors.
From interviews with beneficiaries like Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, we hear how “Van VDO” smuggled art-house VHS tapes into Thailand, hand-made custom boxes, hired his own interpreters to write subtitles and critics to write reviews, and built an enormous criminal empire – much on a reputation for quality as for the contraband itself. Through Van VDO’s secret bootleg shops, Thailand went from a place where you couldn’t find Psycho, to a cinephile’s paradise. And ironically, this fostered an awareness that supporting piracy might actually be hurting independent film. The documentary is directed by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, whose independent-minded 36 (SDAFF ’13) bore the imprint of global art cinema, and whose Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (SDAFF ’14) brimmed with the pop new-wave sensibility of international filmmakers like Sofia Coppola and Wong Kar-wai. In this documentary tribute, we see the roots of his and others’ (semi-legal) education. –Lev Kalman