I was quite surprised that I hadn’t heard about the public execution of 80 North Koreans earlier this week until several days after the fact. It was the introduction to a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that alerted me to the injustice. As the headline to this Telegraph article on the subject has it, “dozens” have been “executed in North Korea For Watching Foreign Films”. That the situation failed to flow in to the daily stream of film-related news matters that fills my Twitter feed actually kind of shocked me. While we were all busy talking about the Bibical accuracy of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, the physics of Gravity and the new Wes Anderson short film, the killing of masses of people for the simple act of watching films passed me by.
Ultimately, they were people like us. Foreign films and exported pop cultural ephemera makes up a great deal of our daily consumption of anything cerebral. And to be clear, we’re talking Batman not Bergman, with Sam Mendes’ Skyfall the most popular title being imported in to country at the time of the documentary’s production, while soap operas were also highly sought after.
The documentary, which can be found here on Channel 4’s on-demand player ultimately surmises that the totalitarian dictatorship of North Korea is doomed to fall next to the behemoth of imported entertainment, with Kim-Jong Un and company no match for the tantalising entertainments offered up by HBO and Hollywood. The idea is that the average North Korean will see a life outside of the fractured State and strive for more. To quell this the government are imprisoning and killing those who are found to have sought out foreign media.
North Korea itself is something of a cinematic illusion. Propaganda expands beyond the screen in to department stores stocked with goods that aren’t for sale, maintained only to keep up an appearance of plenty, while loud-speakers spit out rhetoric on an audio loop in to the streets. Those who fail to attend a weekly praise meeting for the leader are sent to one of the countries many punishment camps. It’s like some kind of vision from a dystopian science-fiction movie.
Cinema is about hope. At least that’s what I’ve always seen it to be. The worst part of all of this is that to foreign eyes such as these it feels like a completely hopeless scenario. One can ambitiously dream of an immediate revolution, or of some kind of interal recourse, or even for a third party to get involved, but such things take time. Anti-propaganda offers some optimism. It empowers via education, with experts suggesting that ultimate salvation may come in the form of a cultural revolution. One can only hope.
I admit that I’m not really qualified to say anything of especial note on this subject, but it’s something I wanted to share.
Adam Batty – Editor
Further Reading – This week’s CriticWire Survey. On Video-Store Memories.