Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toto, I don't think we're in Cannes anymore.

Nor Telluride, Sundance, or even Pusan

Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on the Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF's northern counterpart?). It's a rather interesting read, including the pictures of the North Korean film studio depiction of South Korea. Check out the 크라운삐루 in the background. 

Now just why would any self-respecting moviemaker go to such an outcast state as North Korea—and risk becoming a pariah themselves? The answer is simple: They're egomaniacal attention whores:
Screenings of two British films, "Atonement" and "Elizabeth I: The Golden Age," were so crowded that guards had to bar the doors to prevent gate-crashers. Two years ago, a mob overpowered security to get into a sold-out showing of a Swedish vampire film.

"I've seen them beating down the doors," said Henrik Nydqvist, a Swedish producer who has attended the festival three times since 2004.

He says filmmakers like to attend Pyongyang's festival despite the limited deal-making opportunities because of the passion of the crowds: "Their emotional responses are very direct and natural. They don't anticipate the endings of the film. This is something you can't see in Europe, and it is very refreshing."

The Ministry of Culture, which oversees the festival, pays for filmmakers to attend. Most come from European countries that have diplomatic relations with North Korea; others come from China.
The types of films that the authorities in hermetically sealed North Korea allow is also quite telling:
"Going to the film festival is very popular. Kids of high party officials get tickets that they resell to others at the university," said Zhu Sung-ha, a 34-year-old graduate of Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University, who defected to South Korea in 2001. He said North Korean students view the festival as not only a chance to see foreign films, but to glimpse the outside world.

"They want to see the reality of developed countries," Zhu said. "The North Korean government doesn't really want people to see it, so they show a lot of films from Third World countries like Iran and Egypt."

One of the underlying myths of this country is that people are lucky to be born North Korean. ("We have nothing to envy in this world," goes a popular slogan.) So the government doesn't want the people salivating over the cars, cellphones or kitchen appliances that show up in movies. Festival organizers get around that by favoring historical dramas that won't invite North Koreans to compare their lifestyles with those of the people depicted in the films.
One of the few justifications I ever thought reasonable for Kim Daejung's so-called "Sunshine Policy" was the chance to throw North Koreans into a state of cognitive dissonance about the outside world, even though the erosion process would be very slow-going. Pyongyang's ability to keep the people thinking that life in the DPRK is somehow better than the rest of the world is a very powerful tool.
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