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Finding passion in Pyongyang: Australian filmmaker shows a different side of life in North Korea

Sept 28,2018
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Anna Broinowski [DOC FOREST]
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Australian director Anna Broinowski’s journey to North Korea to learn how to make a propaganda film is the story of her documentary, “Aim High in Creation!” At left is North Korean director Ri Kwan-am, with Broinowski. [DOC FOREST]
Visitors to North Korea usually head to the reclusive country to satisfy their curiosities about what life is like in the nation the world knows so little about. For an Australian director Anna Broinowski, however, the choice to visit was to learn more about her passion - cinema. According to Broinowski, North Korea has “powerful propaganda cinema,” and she wanted to learn more about the form from North Korean cineastes to make her own propaganda film to stop a new gas mine from being built near her Sydney home.

Her journey kicked off in 2012, the year that current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fully assumed his power. Broinowski flew to North Korea and stayed there for three weeks to learn from high profile North Korean filmmakers who were favored by the current leader’s father, Kim Jong-il, a well-known film fanatic.

Broinowski’s documentary, “Aim High in Creation!” chronicles the director’s journey of making a short propaganda movie of her own. The 96-minute movie includes the short propaganda film she made in Australia based on what she learned in North Korea. The film depicts the directing lessons Broinowski had with renowned North Korean filmmakers Ri Kwan-am and Park Jeong-ju, as well as her interactions with several actors, including Ri Gyeong-hui. The movie provides rare glimpses at how films are made in North Korea.

“Aim High in Creation!” had its premiere in 2013 at Melbourne International Film Festival, but recently had its theatrical release in Korea, something she “never imagined” while working on the documentary.

Korea JoongAng Daily met with Broinowski to talk about the journey she went on while making the documentary. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.



Q. Going all the way to North Korea to learn from North Korean filmmakers sounds fascinating but also requires a great deal of courage. What was your intention when you decided to make this documentary, and what did you expect to achieve from the film?

A
. My intention was to capture a side of North Korea that is not normally seen in western media coverage. Rather than telling the same story about North Korea - brainwashing, oppressive regime - I wanted to tell a different story. The narrative about North Korea until the summits this year has been black and white that North Korea is evil. That’s not true. North Korea is a complex country like any other, and I wanted to simply go there and talk to the filmmakers.

The [true intention] behind the film was not really ‘I want to stop a gas mine.’ What I want is for audiences to come out asking questions about what we are being told to believe and what’s the truth.



It took you two years to get approval to work with North Korean filmmakers. Why do you think they let you in to make a movie?

I never thought I’d get approval. I wrote to all the North Korean ambassadors [in countries] near Sydney (there is no North Korean embassy in Australia), but never received a response. Then I met Nick Bonner, who runs Koryo Tours, [which coordinates tours to North Korea]. He said he couldn’t help at first, but when I revealed my hidden intention about what I truly wanted to do in North Korea, he changed his mind and decided to help me.

Most western filmmakers, they just take. They sneak in cameras, [reveal] evil regimes and they leave. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted genuine cultural exchange. I believe [North Korean filmmakers] accepted me because they decided I was genuine. [The ambience among us] was tense, but I also didn’t lie. I really connected with the filmmakers. At the beginning, I was going to make a funnier film, but once I met the filmmakers, I realized that’s not fair. [I followed what is] true to their style. I’m simply saying, “here’s the human side [of North Koreans].”



Before heading to North Korea, what did you expect from North Korean cineastes?

Before I met them, my image was that they’re going to be very serious and churning out propaganda. But when I met them, I was amazed. They were like filmmakers everywhere - telling jokes, generous and passionate. We quickly realized that we’re the same. [Before being a North Korean], they were filmmakers first.



How did the experience influence you?

Every documentary film you make has an influence on you. This film taught me to respect filmmakers who still shoot on celluloid and to respect [people who are able to] make good art even when [they] work in an oppressive regime. The image of North Korean people was only the shadow of the truth.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]