‘Kimjongilia’ Charts Tales of Escape From North Korea

We’re looking at a new film Thursday as part of our partnership with the Economist magazine that showcases the art of filmmaking. It’s an initiative called the Economist Film Project.

The NewsHour and the Economist are choosing examples of interesting, independently-produced documentaries from around the world. You’ll see excerpts on the NewsHour broadcast and additional materials here on the Rundown blog and on the Economist’s website.

On Thursday, you’ll see “Kimjongilia” — which documents tales of escape from North Korea. It comes from filmmaker N.C. Heikin.

We asked Heikin for some insight into the film:

“Kimjongilia is constructed around individual survivors’ stories. The process of finding the survivors began with meeting Kang Chol Hwan in 2002. It involved gaining the trust of people who had escaped the oppressive North Korean regime, some of them camp survivors, and who still feared for their lives and the lives of their families left behind.

There were challenges. Some people wanted their identities protected, so we were compelled to design visually interesting ways to mask their faces. This allowed to them speak without fearing reprisals to them or their loved ones. Refugees spoke about the horrific concentration camps, the widespread starvation of the Great Famine, or true conditions inside the military, but there is no footage to illustrate any of this.

We solved this in two ways. One was to use North Korea’s nearly surreal propaganda films, presenting the regime’s own version of reality as an ironic counterpoint to the testimonies. The other, inspired by one character’s past as a dancer, was the use of modern and classical Korean dance to conjure up images of what is being described. Hewing to the extreme sentimentality of the propaganda and the tragic nature of the stories, we shaped the film like a tragic opera.”

Watch an interview with Heikin on DocTalk.

And find more films we’ve excerpted as part of the Economist project.