North Korea is, for all intents and purposes, a closed shop. The information and images that we do have are often either disturbing or amusing, but one message that cannot be messed with is that the west is an enemy.
As well as utilitarian hair styles, centimetre perfect military parades and Supreme Leaders, North Korea also has a reputation as a tour de force when it comes to propaganda films. Cinema is one of the country’s most powerful tools the country’s government has to send its communist directives to its citizens.
Former leader Kim Jong-Il, who was reported to have a collection of 20,000 films, created the communist North Korean capital Pyonyang’s cinema industry as a way to promote the ‘Great Leaders’, including himself.
His son Kim Jong-un has carried on his father’s tradition by keeping the propaganda cinema juggernaut well and truly oiled, as well as inspiring the entire nation to copy his short back and sides hair style.
But while there have been many productions screened outside North Korea, there has never been a western filmmaker set foot on set. Until now.
Sydney film maker Anna Broinowski was given unlimited access to Pyongyang’s film industry in her quest to find a way to stop the mining of coal seem gas in Sydney.
“I went to North Korea with the same pictures in my mind that everyone has, which is the gulags, the starvation and the oppresive regime, and within three hours of meeting these top film makers I found myself getting drunk with them on North Korean Vodka and they were cracking anti-Russian jokes and singing songs,” Broinowski told film critic Rhett Bartlett.
“It was quite a roller-coaster and that was the experience of making it as well.”
So how did this little-know Australian film maker end up in North Korea?
Broinsowski went through the official application process to gain access to the country, and because she was given state approval she was able to meet Pyongyang’s top film makers, who are considered ‘heroes’ in North Korea.
Broinowski had decided to go to North Korea to find out how to make a ‘perfect’ propaganda film so she could, in turn, make a movie that would help stop coal seam gas fracking in Sydney.
Along the way, she also discovered that artists are, no matter how naive, basically the same the world over.
“When I ended up hanging out with North Korea’s top writers, directors and film stars, and cinematographers, I found that had more in common than we had different.
“What linked us was our passion for cinema.”
Aim High in Creation! details her journey into North Korea’s creative heartland. The film not only show’s an incredible behind the scenes view of the strange country but also allowed the director to get her anti-fracking message through to her audience. Job done.
Aim High in Creation! screens exclusively at Cinema Nova in Melbourne from Thursday, March 27.
With Rhett Bartlett