While most Bowdoin students use downtime to catch up on movies on Netflix, Paul Sullivan ’16 and Wilder Nicholson ’16, who both hail from Brunswick, used theirs to create a movie of their own. 

Their 15-minute documentary, entitled “The Master Plan: Solving Deforestation or Yet Another Strategy to Remove and Evict People,” was created as an independent study project during their semester abroad in Thailand. 

The documentary was created with the purpose of giving back to the Thai community that had given so much to the two students during their time there. 

The documentary focuses on Thailand’s changing laws regarding land rights and deforestation. Thailand recently enacted laws to slow deforestation. These laws have targeted forest communities and forced citizens off their own land. 

“We were both interested in the land management policies,” said Nicholson. “The leaders of the Land Reform Network nonprofit wanted a film that would educate citizens about the government’s new policies.” 

Although the pair was able to complete the project within four weeks, the production process was anything but simple.

“During the first week, we sat down and drafted an outline. We discussed which Thai villages we wanted to go to and came up with interview questions. We then actually visited the villages, conducted interviews [with the help of a translator] and collected footage,” said Nicholson. 

According to Sullivan, the pair worked on the documentary almost every day. Luckily, both students felt that they were doing something they actually wanted to do.

“It wasn’t like working on a long essay,” he said. “Making a film is fun and we were doing something that was beyond us.”

Though the production process was exhaustive, the editing process proved to be even more difficult. 

“We originally had a 30-minute long video, so we had to edit out half of the original product,” said Sullivan.

The editing process was complicated by the necessity of remaining neutral. The pair had to ensure that the film did not lean too far in one direction or another, although it was clear which side of the argument they were on. 

“The Thai government’s actions are undemocratic, so it was easy to pick a side,” said Sullivan. “However, we really wanted to make an argument without presenting it in a biased way. We tried to keep narration neutral and simply let the interviewees speak for themselves.”

Despite their efforts at being unbiased the film was significantly censored before its first screening in Thailand. Luckily, Sullivan and Nicholson were able to censor the film themselves.

“Sadly, the content of the film was completely compromised,” said Sullivan. “We made it very clear that it was censored and the film itself almost became a comment on the infringement of free speech.”

The filmmakers were, however, able to hand out uncensored DVD copies of their film to villagers. 

The uncensored version of “The Master Plan” was screened at Bowdoin on Tuesday to an audience of about 50 students.

“Although the target audience of the film was rural Thai villagers, we wanted to spread awareness of the issue within the Bowdoin community,” said Nicholson.

The reactions within the Bowdoin community were overwhelmingly positive.

“We just happened to be talking about land rights in one of my classes today and a student in my class brought up our film,” said Sullivan. “That was pretty awesome.”

“I’m actually from Thailand, so it’s really nice to hear them talking about the problem from the coup because it’s a big issue there. I think it’s pretty cool what [Sullivan and Nicholson] did,” said Ponpavi Sangsuradej ’16.

Both Sullivan and Nicholson plan to continue making documentaries. In fact, the pair will soon be taking on a year-long independent study documentary project with Director of the Environmental Studies Program, John Lichter. 

This time, the two will explore how the collapse of Gulf of Maine fisheries has impacted local Maine communities. 

“I can see myself making documentaries in my future,” said Nicholson. “We will see.”