Sundance Docs, 2009: Kimjongilia, flower of oppression
Kimjongilia, a new film playing in the 2009 Sundance World Documentary Competition by NC Heiken, is not designed merely to inform audiences about the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, but to enrage and inspire the world community to do what it takes to overthrow his regime and overcome the suffering he inflicts upon the North Korean citizenry.
The documentary takes its name from the symbolic flower of Kim Jong Il, created to celebrate his birthday and alleged to represent wisdom, peace, justice and love. The film opens with a montage of propagandist images and music from communist North Korea, smiling workers protected by the original “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung. The film ends on a similar montage, but with new music suggesting liberation and new images drawn from the many interviewees, who tell their own personal tales of struggle and oppression.
The film combines interviews with historical overviews. They speak with former laborers, artists, dancers, students, military leaders. A few of the respondents — who speak of starvation, slavery, torture, famine, prison camps, repression and religious persecution — are shot in extreme closeups of eyes, mouth and hands, in order to protect their anonymity.
The interview footage throughout the film is decidedly low-rez, likely shot on a consumer model video camera, this is especially true of occasional bits of footage taken from North Korea and China. The exception is with more experimental images of an expressive dancer, whose movements, dress and location suggest the emotions and setting of each of the subjects.
Nearly every respondent insists they would return to North Korea immediately if Kim Jong-Il’s dictagorship were to fall. One of the respondents asks tearfully: “I wonder if anyone is listening to our pleas. North Koreans have no voice. The world has to save North Korea … we have to speak of it.” The filmmakers make clear that the intentions of the film are deeply patriotic, even while they are critical of the Kim dynasty. The aim of the film is not merely to inform but to expose Kim Jong-Il as a war criminal who should and must be overthrown. The film is a simple and straightforward and important plea for global outrage and action.