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.