Between satellite photos and sympathetic basketball stars, we’re learning a bit about what goes on in North Korea. The populace, we’re told, is brainwashed. Kim Jong-un lets his people starve to death while he focuses on more important things—like grooming his nuclear warheads and dropping bills on designer bags for his lady. The oppression and human rights violations are shocking, and yet the notoriously isolated country has become the world’s creepy clown. Somalia got Captain Phillips and North Korea got Team America.
The North Korean Human Rights Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, will attempt to flesh out North Korea’s identity for Canadian viewers. Gilad Cohen, the festival’s executive director, points out that Kim Jong-un and his military take the spotlight away from the day-to-day stories of North Korean life. “We tried to cover every angle we could,” Cohen said. “We’re trying to personalize and humanize North Korea. We’re hosting several North Korean defectors—getting to know them as people before we discuss the issues.”
The festival will consist of nine carefully selected films about North Korea (though not necessarily made by North Koreans), beginning with a free noon screening of DPRK: The Land of Whispers and ending with the harrowing Camp 14: Total Control Zone. For the festival’s opening-night event, the organizers are mixing it up with a North Korean-made romantic comedy called Comrade Kim Goes Flying (the trailer is embedded above), which played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. It stars acrobats, and the script took seven years to be approved by the government.
The biggest challenge for the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival is finding films. Cohen said there are only 20 to 30 available, and they’re not all winners. “It’s a fine line between entertaining the audience and staying true to our mission—which is educating the public on human rights issues through art. Luckily, we dug deep and searched every corner of the world for an interesting lineup of films.”
After only two years, this will likely be the festival’s last 100 per cent North Korea-based schedule. It will include a wider range of films about human-rights issues in the future.