Director: Anna Broinowski
Starring: Jacqueline McKenzie, Peter O’Brien, Kathryn Beck, Susan Prior, Matt Zeremes
Anna was trying to make a documentary about coal seam gas due to a planned well near where she lives in central Sydney, but none of the gas companies wanted to talk to her, so she had the idea of fighting corporate enterprise with Communist propaganda and decided to go to North Korea to enlist their help to make the film. She also wanted to stick to Kim Jong Il’s seven directives for making a movie.
There is a dual story in the documentary with the short film being the main outcome and it also being a introduction to the cinema of the DPRK including meeting veterans of the film industry in the country who have worked on dozens of movies.
I always like to learn something new from documentaries and I did not know the story about the defectors from the USA during the Korean War. One of them went on to playing all the baddies on the US side in movies and his sons also play a similar role in films these days. They did not like Anna much she explained and she did not get to talk to them.
While the North Korean film directors may think Anna “acts like a stick”, I think she is a great narrator and has wonderful expressive eyes. My favourite scene is where she gets kicked off the production of the North Korean movie and looks like a guilty puppy walking away from the set. Also when she sits on the historical monument at the DMZ and gets told off.
The short comes out quite well, but the more effective scenes are when Anna is preparing one of her actors for the role and takes them to meet a farmer whose family has been effected by coal seam gas drilling and is now getting sick.
It was the world premiere when I saw it so it will be interesting to see how it goes with a wider audience. They did try and get the North Koreans out for the premiere, but it was blocked for the government. A full symphony orchestra helped score parts of the movie, but they left out the parts about “fertilising with manure in winter” for one song.
Anna was adamant during production that she did not want to do what the Red Chapel had done and twist things around to make a different documentary to what actually happened, but she did not tell the people the footage was going to be used for anything other than instructing the actors. The longer version of the short has been shown to the people she worked with in North Korea and they did like it, Anna wanted them to have a more harsh reaction but it is a good start.
There are actually fans of the Communist propaganda genre and there was a documentary on Eastern European Communist musicals in the late 90s that I have a copy of and have also managed to track down all of the movies so hopefully this film will have a similar effect on making the movies available.
It also helps with understanding the people in North Korea more than just the politics and hopefully relations can come out of that. There have been attempts are art exhibitions by artists from North Korea that have been blocked by the Australian government, which is sad but hopefully we will get to see the artworks one day.
Anna said she did want to include a section in the film about the director of Pulgasari and had an interview with his agent, but found out he is persona non-grata in North Korea so she could not mention his name. She also could not show the interviews with defectors even if they were anonymous.
There were some restrictions on filming in North Korea including not cropping the image of the Dear Leader, not filming soldiers (they got lucky at the memorial as there were too many of them to crop out) and also the officials did not like the microphone wire covering up the badge of the Dear Leader. Anna did manage to put extra things in though including some run-down buildings and showing an amorous couple on screen. After what happened with the Red Chapel, she did have to show the footage she had shot or they would not let her get a visa to leave the country.
I would say that it is a very interesting movie and I would like to visit North Korea one day before the system collapses as it will inevitably do and in a very short period of time, as happened in Eastern Europe. Hopefully things can be managed better this time around, but that is up in the air.