Trisha Ziff is a documentary filmmaker in Mexico City and director of 2012 documentary The Mexican Suitcase. Inspired by throngs of vendors hawking pirated DVDs for a buck a pop in her swarming megacity, she turned the lens on that street economy. Her upcoming film, Pirate Copy, looks at unexpected reasons for pirating and the people who depend on it. Makeshift caught up with Ziff to hear how it works and what this burgeoning market means for producers like her.
Makeshift: As a filmmaker, what drew you to look at piratería?
TZ: The debate about piracy for the most part is first-world centric. I wanted to discover how people in the majority world, especially filmmakers, feel about film piracy. For me, defining context has always been critical: what is right in one reality is not always true in another. So I wanted to show voices of people from perhaps less central places—a cinema owner in London, but from Kerala, India, forced to close by piraters outpricing him or two Palestinian filmmakers offering a mobile cinema to those who don’t see film living under Occupation.
How important is this trade to the informal economy?
While in the developed world the focus is on the mega-pirates and their fortunes that damage the film industry, in the developing world, millions of people are making a modest living from film piracy, in markets which are often ignored anyway. I don’t think pirates in the markets of Mexico are getting rich! It’s more complex.
In Mexico, you look at a vendor named “V” who sells rare films in a rough part of town.
People travel from all over the city, even the country, to buy from V. She uses her knowledge like a low tech Netflix (“If you like this, you might like that”) and provides a niche service in offering hard-to-get contemporary and international films. Her market stall is modest, but she has some cinematic gems that no one else has in the city. Impossible to find in the legitimate market.
Does pirating hurt or help artists like yourself?
I don’t think piracy helps artists; I think that’s a liberal myth. At best, it doesn’t hurt filmmakers. What piracy does is make our films accessible to people who would never see them otherwise. As filmmakers, we want our work to be seen. But we also want to make the next film too and make a legitimate living from our work. I think the dinosaur distributors are slowly becoming a thing of the past, and perhaps it was their greed for profit which pre-empted today’s reality. Piracy has forced us to rethink the paradigm. In some countries, the pirates have become the new distributors!
When will pirated copies of Pirate Copy hit the streets?
I don’t have anymore funds for the film right now, but my hope is to finish within the year. What has surprised me is that despite the controversy surrounding film piracy, no one wants a film that gives a voice to how people outside the first world think about piracy. It’s a theme which touches many of our lives as filmmakers, yet it’s not popular.