A documentary about a controversial Buddhist sect has been approved by censors to show in theaters in April.
Chronicling Wat Dhammakaya and its fugitive abbot accused of massive embezzlement, Come and See got the green light from the Film and Video Committee to show in its original form without changes two years after it premiered at a Korean film festival.
The film is the second feature-length documentary by filmmaker Nottapon “Kai” Boonprakob, whose first, 2,215 followed rock star “Toon Bodyslam” on his epic 2,215-kilometer charity run.
In Come and See, Nottapon investigates Dhammakaya, a new age denomination broadly composed of middle-class Thai adherents that critics call a cult that over the decades has drawn controversies including allegations of labor abuses and money laundering that culminated in a drawn-out siege in 2017 as law enforcement moved to arrest its longtime charismatic leader, Dhammachayo. He was never found and remains at large; the temple’s adherents say the case is politically motivated.
Nottapon’s documentary takes what he describes as a “rather unique point of view,” given Dhammakaya’s demonization in the mainstream media, by examining these and more issues through a range of perspectives, from Dhammakaya’s monks and followers to its critics and Buddhist academics.
“The idea of making this film simply came from my curiosity, my own questions” Nottapon said, adding that he tried his best to “observe” the issue from every angle possible. The rest is left to the audience to interpret, he said.
“What I expect from screening this film is that people find a space to exchange their points of view and learn from each other,” he said.
Its release back home was held up by censors who didn’t approve it until earlier this month, nearly two years after it premiered.
The film, which clocks in at 84 minutes, received critical acclaim when it debuted at the Busan International Film Festival.
“The camera’s gaze, as it traverses across politics and religion, power and corruption, belief and blind faith, maintains a cold calmness of an investigator without a hint of emotion,” wrote festival programmer Sowan Kang. “The impressive directing creates a tense atmosphere, pointing out the evils of religion without criticizing the ignorant yet innocent fanatical followers.”
While it won’t be widely available at several cinemas, the movie can be initially seen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai as soon as April 6 at 11 cinemas including House Samyan, Lido Connect, Major Cineplex Ratchayothin, SF CentralWorld and SF Cinema Maya Chiang Mai.
Come and See will also be available on Netflix in Thailand from August 1.
Update: This story has been updated with the documentary’s release on Netflix.
This article, Thailand can finally see acclaimed doc on controversial Buddhist sect, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.