Having spent a number of days in North Korea it was time to visit the Korean Feature Film Studio, or more specifically the film sets as we did not get into the studios themselves.
Many would argue, and with some justification, that the whole of North Korea is like a film set where everything is stage managed and has an air of artificiality about it. I have explored this thought in a separate review on my North Korea entry – Be an Extra on the World’s Largest Film Set? – so will limit this review (and another) to the Feature Film Studio.
The State run film studio, founded in 1947, is located on the north western side of Pyongyang but you don’t really need to know that as your trusty tour bus will take you there.
Arriving at the film studio, our first port of call was a large bronze statue of Kim Il-sung and some film-makers/actors.
Formalities first, our first activity was to show our respects to the Great Leader by placing flowers on the statue and bowing. Immediately after we have paid our respects to the Great Leader a large group of men immaculately dressed in dark blue suits, white shirts, a red tie and sporting berets did likewise.
I am not suggesting anything untoward, but we didn’t see them again.
At this stage our guide (from the studio) outlined the history and work of the Studio drawing particular attention to the role played therein by Kim Il-sung and, particularly, Kim Jong-il. While the guide explained things we are able to admire a colourful mural depicting various movies scenes and movie related activity.
The lady with the basket of flowers in the centre of the mural portrays one of two ‘immortal classics’ – Flower Girl (1972) – produced by Kim Jong-Il and based on a play supposedly written by Kim Il-sung.
Film production in North Korea (and thus the studio, as they are all made here) seems to have waned a bit since the death of Kim Jong-il. At its height around forty (highly debated) films per year were produced.
I mention Kim Jong-il as, while like his father and his son he dispensed guidance and direction on all things under the sun, he was particularly obsessed with movies and the industry flourished due to his direct and personal interest. His interest in films was not limited to the output of this studio. He had one of the largest private film collections in the world – reputedly 20,000 plus. It is said that his favourite film was ‘Gone with the Wind’ while his favourite actress was Elizabeth Taylor. Like Adolf Hitler, he had a particular liking for Disney movies and was a big fan of Daffy Duck. His otherwise general liking for James Bond movies was tarnished with the release of ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002 which depicted North Korea as a basket-case, evil state.
Back to the studio, while Kim Il-sung visited the studio around 20 times in his life, Kim Jong-il visited it around 600 times – he basically ran the show. In addition to being a bone fide cinephile he was also a film theorist, director, producer, costume maker, set designer, screenwriter, cameraman, sound engineer and more. In fact he awarded himself the title “ Genius of the Cinema”.
While he probably did have more personal knowledge and ability in these cinema than in most things he dispensed his guidance on, he must have been seen as a real, meddling pain in the butt by the real filmmakers at the studio, not that they would ever admit that, off course.
In his 1973 book “On the Art of the Cinema”, the bible for filmmakers in North Korea, he declared that “Creative work is not a mere job, but an honourable revolutionary task.” and when their immediate task is completed “Film artists go into reality. They help farmers in their work at the rice-transplanting season.” No superstar status for actors here.
My main picture is courtesy of the BBC/ Lianain Films – I can’t recall seeing if Kim Jong-il has joined his father atop the gate since this photo was taken. For some reason that fails me I neglected to take any photos of the entrance or of the main studio buildings. The other photos are mine.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Korean Feature Film Studio (2) – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other