The Jaker

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Life in North Korea
On Saturday, as part of the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival, I had the chance to see an absolutely fascinating movie about every-day life in North Korea. The film, A State of Mind, follows two young female gymnasts as they prepare to participate in North Korea's "Mass Games", a huge spectacle (on the order of the Olympic opening ceremony) that happens sometimes 2-3 times per year. Mass Games is meant to demonstrate the perfection of socialism - all individuals ceding their individuality for the good of the group.

It's hard to describe the value of seeing this movie (which should be released at the Film Forum in NYC in the fall, and hopefully elsewhere around the country). First, the Mass Games are a site to behold - there is nothing like them in the world. Up to 100,000 performers will train 2 hours after school every day year-round, and 8 hours a day during the summer leading up to the performances. Of course, participation is basically compulsory. The games celebrate events like Kim Jong Il's and Kim Il Sung's birthdays, and Korean independence. You are expected to perform to show that you are a good communist.

It was also amazing to see footage of daily life in Korea - the absolute most impenetrable country in the world for outsiders and media. No one has ever been able to film daily North Korean life before. It is definitely one of hardship. Food is rationed. Electricity goes off at least a couple hours every night (meaning the 40 story Pyongyang towers' elevators don't work). There is one television channel, which again only works certain hours during the day, and is government-programmed with propaganda. Every kitchen has a radio that broadcasts government programming that can be turned down but never off.

There is also an amazing amount of built-in hostility to the American government. Air raid drills to practice for an American invasion are common . Even sitting around the living room eating dinner and watching a parade on TV, the grandmother of the family would say things, unprovoked, like "Look at our well-disciplined army. No wonder the U.S. imperialists tremble in fear at the sight of them."

With so much scorn for North Korea in the U.S., it's easy to forget that the country's people are just like anyone else - trying their best to have a good life. Near the end of the movie there was discussion of a "market" being built. None of the construction workers understood what it was that they were building - they have no concept of capitalism.
posted by CB @ 1:59 PM  
5 Comments:
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