HAL Film School owner Dhan Plewtianyingtawee, 31, wants Bangkok cinemas to look beyond Hollywood and local blockbusters, and he’s doing something about it. His new venture, HAL Distribution, independently finances the release of small movies from around the world in Thai cinemas, starting with the 2014 Ukrainian silent film Tribe, which is currently screening at Paragon Cineplex and Esplanade Ratchada. Here, he discusses what it takes to bring quality cinema to new audiences.
How did you get into movie distribution?
I’d been working on short movies for a decade before I began HAL Film School in 2012. My friends Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (Insects in the Backyard) and Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (Mary is Happy) were teaching there but they also had their own side projects. I kind of wanted something else to do, too. I love watching movies so much, but it pissed me off that Thai movie distributors didn’t import the movies I wanted to see. So I started doing it myself.
Is it that easy?
It’s pretty easy to get movies. Once you have the name of the movie you want, just Google it to find a distributor and email them. That’s it. The hardest part is in Thailand, dealing with reluctant theater operators, paranoid censorship boards, going through the edit and subtitle process, and promoting it. Plus, I can’t even count the hours we have to spend watching sample movies and discussing how we should distribute our movie. It’s a lot of work.
What kind of movies do you look for?
I have no genre preferences. I love all movies, but mostly those from Europe. My idea is to bring in movies that aren’t formulaic. What’s so exciting about watching a movie where everything is digested for you? It’s like eating a meal that someone has already chewed for you. I want to promote those movie-makers who have the courage and ambition to make movies as pieces of art and don’t care they make money.
Can’t we just see these movies online?
The first film I’m distributing is a silent picture from the Ukraine called Tribe. If you see it at home, there will always be something ruining the experience. You’ll never get the tension you can feel in the theater.
Are they expensive to get?
I’ve been quite surprised. I don’t find them expensive at all. Some movies can be in the hundreds of thousands of baht but others are less. I finance it from my film school and family business, Basilico restaurants.
Why should people see auteur cinema?
There’s nothing wrong with blockbusters. They can be great, like Terminator 2, it’s brilliant. But films like Terminator 5 Genesis? Seriously? I just want to change people’s perception that indie movies are hard to watch. They’re not. Just open your mind. A good movie; you can watch it in your 20s and still remember it when you’re 90. I believe watching movies can be a life-changing experience. It can trigger something in you and change your perception on life.
HAL Distribution’s next film is White God, a highly-acclaimed movie from Hungary about an abandoned dog who seeks revenge on human society. It hits theaters Oct 15. Watch the trailer below: