Film: Great North Korean Picture Show, The (2012)

May 7, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good / DVD Transfer: n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a/ Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: Documentary / North Korea / Hot Docs 2013

Synopsis: Two students and a top director in North Korea are the focus of this unusually candid documentary.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

When Singapore directors Lynne Lee and James Leong were given the rare green light to make their documentary about North Korea’s most prestigious film school, they had to abide by two iron-clad conditions: always film under the supervision of a government-appointed handler, and use only the footage approved and released by the government – a process that sometimes mandated waits spanning half a year.

There’s no doubt the approved material and selected subjects are supposed to convey a façade of a perfectly fine regime and function as a contrast to prior documentaries where refugees have materialized with tales of brutal oppression – notably Kimjongilia [M] (2009) and The Defector: Escape from North Korea (2012) – but what materializes is a curious blend of the absurd (people incessantly interpolate “Dear Leader” in social and creative discussions), and moments of genuine humanism, showing ordinary behaviour of youths in film school, fussy parents, and a frustrated director (Hang Pyo) trying to make his anti-Japanese masterpiece.

It’s very much a totalitarian state – the signage and framed portraits reinforce the cult of leaders past and present – and there are curious censorial slips-ups (we see power blackouts, as well as unheated classrooms) but what lingers are specific people who transcend the regime’s starkly defined ideology.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Co-Director’s BlogHot Docs 2013 Entry

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