Fes­ti­val brings (some) world cinema to North Korea

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SEX and graphic vi­o­lence were largely a no-no, although a glimpse of naked Rus­sian but­tocks made the cut, while a Bol­ly­wood of­fer­ing was well re­ceived and Hol­ly­wood was locked out com­pletely.

The Py­ongyang In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, which opened a week af­ter North Korea trig­gered global out­rage with its fifth nu­clear test and wrapped up on Septem­ber 23, is a world away from Ber­lin, Sun­dance and other es­tab­lished names on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

While big-name jury mem­bers pose in front of me­dia scrums on the Croisette in Cannes, in Py­ongyang they ran three-legged races and rolled on the grass pop­ping bal­loons with their bod­ies on a sports out­ing or­gan­ised between screen­ings.

“Every day, there’s been some­thing I wasn’t ex­pect­ing,” said Al Cos­sar, a jury mem­ber from New Zealand.

PIFF was launched in 1987 and has been held every two years since 1990.

It be­gan life as the Py­ongyang Film Fes­ti­val of Non-Aligned and Other De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries, but se­lec­tion has been grad­u­ally broad­ened since 2000 to in­clude en­tries from Bri­tain, France and else­where.

The ac­tual se­lec­tion process is opaque – none of the at­tend­ing for­eign del­e­gates were able to shed much light on how it worked – and is in the hands of the Korea Film Ex­port and Import Corp (KorFilm) which con­trols the­atri­cal dis­tri­bu­tion in North Korea.

The vice head of KorFilm, Kim JaeHyok, said the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, of which he is chair, looked for films that “re­flected the mis­sion of the fes­ti­val which is self-re­liance, peace and friend­ship”.

“We do not se­lect films that crit­i­cise an­other coun­try,” he said.

While os­ten­si­bly open to en­tries from any­where, there are clear ex­cep­tions. US and South Korean movies have never been shown – a ban that Kim made clear was not about to be lifted any­time soon in the cur­rent diplo­matic cli­mate.

Many of those who bring movies to Py­ongyang seem mainly to be driven by cu­rios­ity to at­tend what must be the world’s most un­likely film fes­ti­val.

“I could have gone to Toronto, but I would have just seen the same old faces, so I chose to come here,” said French di­rec­tor Fran­cois Mar­golin, whose fea­ture on Jewish art looted by the Nazis, The Art Dealer, was shown out of com­pe­ti­tion.

“I was cu­ri­ous to see how a North Korean au­di­ence would re­act to some­thing out­side of their cul­tural con­text,” Mar­golin said.

“North Korea isn’t Mars. There’s a grow­ing in­ter­est among peo­ple here about the out­side world that is be­ing fed by tech­nol­ogy,” he said.

Some 60 films from 20 coun­tries were shown at this year’s PIFF, with 12 fea­tures in the main com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing en­tries from Bri­tain, Poland, Rus­sia and North Korea.

The top prize, the Torch Award, went to the North Korean fea­ture The Story of our Home about a young woman who de­votes her­self to car­ing for or­phans.

The se­lec­tion of films shared com­mon themes of co­op­er­a­tion and over­com­ing ad­ver­sity, “and it goes with­out say­ing that there was re­ally no sex­ual con­tent”, said jury mem­ber Matt Hulse, a Bei­jing-based Bri­tish film­maker.

“Fron­tier Post Serene, about a group of Rus­sian sol­diers on the Afghan-Ta­jik bor­der, of­fered a brief flash of nu­dity with some mil­i­tary back­sides on dis­play in a bathing scene.”

Hulse said, “That pro­duced an amount of be­hind-the-hand gig­gling from women in the au­di­ence. It was quite sweet.”

Photo: AFP

North Kore­ans walk past film posters at the 15th Py­ongyang In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

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