Written by Zoe Stephens
North Korea, a country notorious for being secretive and not the biggest fans of Western media presence and documentaries. Few have visited, some cannot, and some aren’t quite daring enough. Many, therefore, turn to the media to get an insight into the country.
We all know of fake news, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the media propaganda going around about this mysterious land. So, where do you start to make sure you get a balanced insight into the country?
We’ve created this list of informative documentaries to help you get started.
#5 Crossing The Line, 2006
In 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the now-deceased American Soldier James J. Dresnok abandoned his post to keep the peace on the border of South Korea and defected to North Korea. Both the US and North Korea governments denied this fact for many years. This documentary looks into his life – from the early years, highlighting his unhappiness in America, to his desertion from the US and arrival into Korea.
It follows his everyday life as he talks and interacts with his family and friends in Pyongyang, North Korea, and also shows fellow defectors, including Charles Jenkins.
At the end, you can see the health decline of James Dresnok. He passed away in 2016 in Pyongyang where he continued to live.
#4 Friends of Kim, 2006
The film starts as a straightforward documentary about a delegation of communist supporters from the West brought to North Korea to promote unification.
It quickly becomes more interesting; paranoia sets in amongst the delegation’s participants as to who truly supports the DPRK. The film climaxes with a showdown between Alejandro Cao de Benos and a journalist dispatched to report on the KFA’s activities in North Korea.
#3 Liberation Day, 2016
ALL ART IS PROPAGANDA – George Orwell
…AND ALL PROPAGANDA IS ART” – Laibach
A notoriously mysterious band in a notoriously mysterious country. Laibach is an alternative Slovenian rock band around since the 1980s. It was decided that for the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s Liberation Day, that, for the first time ever, there would be a Western band performing for the celebrations. Who would fulfil this role? None other than art-rock band, Laibach. This documentary follows them on their journey from sound checks to performing, with many ups and downs on the way and an interesting insight into the involvement of organising a foreign music concert in the DPRK.
Read this blog post here for more information on the concert itself as YPT manage to get themselves a ticket.
#2 Aim High in Creation, 2013
Inspired by North Korea’s propaganda film-making skills, film director Anna Broinoski from Sydney, Australia looks to the country to produce her own propaganda film in order to prevent fracking in her local area. She highlights three powerful things that she wishes to capture in her own film:
- The message that people, when they get together, can beat a powerful enemy.
- The utilization of music to move people.
- Very strong female characters.
She is the first Western film director to gain full access to the film industrz in the country.
Some of the information is a bit out-dated, with North Korea being much more relaxed than it is portrayed. However, it is still very informative and gives an interesting insight into the film-making industry.
#1 Under the Sun, 2015
This is a documentary/film directed by Manksy. Inspired by his upbringing in the Soviet Union, he gained an interest in North Korean life. Expecting missiles, military and lots of action? This is not the film for you. This art-house style film offers a lot more than brutal action. It shows the very simple and honest reality of life in North Korea.
It follows the life of a North Korean family during their daily life, particularly concentrating on that of the life of the young child actor Zin-Mi. Through clever camera work, you can see life behind the scenes with clever camera work. Cameramen left cameras rolling for 24 hours during filming, which wasn’t strictly well received by North Korea. This is shown in the actual film through duplication of shots, which also represents the comparison of reality to what is real, and what they want to be shown.