North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams

Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s leader, is revered as a genius of cinema by his own people. Or so the North Korean propagandists would have you believe. In this fascinating video from Al Jazeera, we follow two reporters (Lynn Lee and James Leong) as they gain unprecedented access to Pyongyang’s University of Cinematic and Dramatic Arts, where young actors are picked to serve the massive propaganda machine. Along the way, Lee and Leong encounter two young film students – Kim Un Bom and Ri Yun Mi – as they rehearse, take music and dance lessons, and call attention to their privileged lives.

How are films different in capitalist countries vs. North Korea? Leave it to Ri Yun Mi, the film student, to explain (3:27 in the video):

“Films made in capitalist countries are commercial products. Movies in our country bring out the ideology of the people. We could say we are representatives of our [Communist] Party.”

The young reporters go on to explain the challenges they faced in creating this film. They were repeatedly denied permission to film at the University, and frequently told to delete footage when it didn’t conform to North Korea’s standards. All in all, this film does a good job illuminating another hidden part of North Korean life: the cinema of dreams.

Eugene Buchko is a blogger and photographer living in Atlanta, GA. He maintains a photoblog, Erudite Expressions, and writes about what he reads on his reading blog.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.