Thida Plitpholkarnpim, 45, founded the Documentary Club in 2014 through the crowdsourcing platform Taejai.com, and since has grown it into a 130,000-strong community of independent film enthusiasts. Now, the club is set to take over two new homes in Bangkok’s upcoming creative spaces of Chang Chui and Warehouse 30, where they plan to host regular screenings. Here, Thida discusses problems with documentary distribution in Thailand, and how they will survive in the era of movie streaming.  

Currently, the movies which Documentary Club screens have very limited cinema access. Has the audience grown since your efforts began?

It’s still something that we have to deal with after three years. We’re fortunate that SF provides us with space. Cinema operators have to look at it from a macro angle. They see that no matter whether you’re screening indie movies or documentary movies, you won’t make that much money, so why do you need more theaters or showtimes? After a week, if no one is coming to watch the movie, then they will reduce showtimes to once a day or once a week. But we look from the micro angle. If a movie isn’t given the chance to create hype and draw people in for longer than a week, then how can it be expected to make money? So we always have to negotiate with each movie from one week to another. We always have to look for new spaces where we can find a different audience, both in Bangkok and other provinces. It could be cafes, bookshops, universities, co-working spaces and even hospitals. 

How will your upcoming spaces in Bangkok’s two new creative projects affect our approach to distribution?

We’re still thinking about it. As we have been invited to join Chang Chui and Warehouse 30, we can view these spaces as a home for documentary movies which everyone should have the chance to see. We plan to experiment with various events related to movies, as well as to offer plenty of diversity. There might be talks or themed movie nights. We’re still working on ideas.

How has the proliferation of movie streaming affected the importance of independent movie distributors? 

We agree that video on demand [VOD] fits well with people’s lives, while conventional channels like cinemas actually limit choices. So cinemas are only for people who prefer to view films that way; they are not an absolute answer to distribution, but they are still very valuable. That’s why we also embrace streaming. We just began a TVOD [transactional VOD] project with Maxxxstore, based on a pay-per-view system. We need to work on the concept and see which movies best fit the cinema, and which can go directly to streaming. We are X [a documentary about a Japanese rock band] needed to be screened in the cinema because the experience is so visual. 

Do you think Documentary Club has impacted the size of Thailand’s audience for documentary films? 

We haven’t created this audience. They’ve always been here, they just haven’t had a voice. The Thai audience is painted as only demanding easy-to-watch entertainment, but that’s completely untrue. Documentary movies aren’t just growing in Thailand. Social media has expanded everyone’s global view of the world. We acknowledge events like the war in Syria, so while it might fall from the headlines of mainstream media, documentaries such as Return to Homs, which dares to go inside some of the most dangerous areas of Syria, offer something new to knowledge-hungry audiences. 

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