There was a story my professor told me, and I don’t know if I’m distorting it here, of the time when Fernando Meirelles, the director of City of God visited the Philippines. My professor brought a DVD copy of a ” City of God” for the director to sign. Upon receiving the DVD, Meirelles couldn’t help express his surprise that the DVD was already available.
The DVD in question was a pirated copy and if you’re wondering if Meirelles signed it, he did.
Which brings me to a question that has always been at the back of my mind and is often discussed in joke time sessions with friends. Where would we be without piracy? Now, before the PC police (or the Optical Media Board for that matter) come barging into my door with a warrant, let me preface this by saying that this is not an endorsement of copyright infringement or illegal activity. I do make it a point to buy original DVDs of the movies I love and Filipino movies in general. When it comes to original Filipino content, I buy original. But I have to admit that I have patronized pirated copies of movies. A lot of it in fact. And I often wonder how in heavens name would budding film makers have access to the world’s output if not for pirated DVDs?
A lot of the great movies I’ve watched over the years were obtained through pirated copies. Aldomovar’s “Talk to Her”, Von Trier’s “Europa”, “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville”, heck even “Citizen Kane”! A lot of the world’s best cinema cannot be legally obtained in the country’s video stores at affordable prices. Only the stalls of Quiapo hold the answer for the countries cineastes, many of whom are not exactly flush with cash.
So is this a defense of media piracy? I don’t mean it to be. It’s just me wondering out loud and remarking how something illegal has opened our eyes to the beauty of world cinema.
Setting aside the moral and legal implications of piracy, can we then ask if it actually levels the playing field between the haves and the have nots? Between the first and the third world? When Hajji, your friendly neighborhood DVD vendor from Quiapo, knows his Gus Van Sant from his Ridley Scott, you begin to wonder if something amazing is going on.
So continuous technological advances democratize media consumption. Sounds like a thesis. Whatever. This reminds me of what the papers call “Xerox Intellectuals”, where educated university people read their texts from completely photocopied (i.e. pirated) books. And why wouldn’t they? Not everybody has the money to buy a set of thousand peso text books every semester. In the same way that people from the third world can’t exactly catch an old Kurosawa film on a local theatre (come to think of it, we can hardly catch films by our own local directors on local theatres).
So is this a case of something good coming out of something bad? Yes, I suppose so. But should it stop there. Maybe not. Maybe there’s an opportunity in all of this. Maybe there’s a legitimate business model waiting to be developed to capitalize on people’s desire to consume vast amounts of digital entertainment at affordable prizes. Until such time though, don’t expect Hajji* to lose any business anytime soon.
* incidentally Hajji is the name of my friendly neighborhood DVD vendor.