On the weekend I took a train about an hour out of Seoul to Paju for the DMZ Documentary Festival. Under the slogan ’Shoot the DMZ’ the festival says it ‘wanted documentaries to show the vision of peace and unification for the future beyond the divided reality which the DMZ symbolizes’.
I saw three films. Holy Working Day, a graduation film about young Koreans picking onions in Australia; an overlong film about a group of Korean yarn bombers called The Knitting Club (maybe I’m biased as I’m also involved in a film on yarn…); and the Australian-produced Aim High in Creation!, by director Anna Broinowski. The festival had invited Anna and many of the directors from abroad to do Q&As after the films, and it was easy to access them.
Anna’s film was a funny and well handled account of her quest to make a propaganda film in the North Korean tradition about fracking, or coal seam gas as the film calls it. She got access to the directors, actors and technicians of the N Korean film industry in Pyongyang, and structured the film around the teachings of Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il in his 1987 Manifesto ‘The Cinema and Directing’.
The film is on Netflix – she said that although many festivals had been wary of the film and didn’t get it, the hacking of Sony’s emails by North Korea around the dreadful film The Interview meant that Netflix jumped in and acquired it. Well worth seeing.
Other directors I got talking to were Brigitte Weich from Austria, who had made films with the North Korean Women’s Football team – we talked about Dan Gordon & Nick Bonner’s film on the men’s team (The Game of Their Lives) which inspired her to do it. And Sung-Hyung Cho, now based in Germany whose film comparing the lives of two Korean women from either side of the border, Two Voices from Korea, I wish I’d had the chance to see. Hana Kulhankova, who runs the One World Human Rights film festival every March in Prague was also there – she showed me the 2015 programme, a remarkable range of films and subjects from around the world.
On the Sunday I got to visit the DMZ itself, on a ‘familiarisation tour’ with people invited to the festivals, and a mix of clients of the bank which had sponsored the tour. I cycled with the Iranian economic attache, and saw the Israeli ambassador’s wife chatting to two Iranian filmmakers on the tour bus about how much she liked Persian cuisine. Putting some chinks in other borders. After the standard tour of the border installations, we went on a Peace Bicycle Tour along the fence marking the DMZ – a very unusual way of seeing it. I’ve posted the pictures on Facebook.
Divided countries seem to be a feature of my life. My mother is East German, and my late father Punjabi. Both countries that were split, one along ideological lines, one on religious lines. The South Koreans I met thought there was no prospect of their country ever being reunited with the people of the North – not until Kim Jong-Un’s ‘dynasty’ died out. The sudden pulling down of the Iron Curtain in Europe in 1989 didn’t seem to provide them with any positive examples.
The DMZ Festival absolutely had its heart in the mission to bring a spirit of change to this border area where it often felt that change was impossible.