Five Films That Will Tell You What You Need to Know About North Korea
In the wake of Trump's successful Singapore summit, these documentaries are worth a look for key info about the dictatorship
North Korea has a reputation as one of the worst world regimes in recent times — and its people, run by a communist government, worship its leaders as gods.
So much about the country is unknown to most of the world’s public, even 65 years after a ceasefire in the Korean War was achieved.
With the hermit kingdom’s grabbing headlines because of President Donald Trump’s historic summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, these five documentaries will tell you everything you need to know about the country. Check ’em out.
1.) “Inside North Korea” (2007). This 50-minute National Geographic special is a good start for those who are not as familiar with North Korea as they’d like to be. It follows journalist Lisa Lang as she gains access to the country alongside doctors who come to perform cataract surgeries for the blind.
Although it’s 11 years old, it gives viewers a basic understanding of life in the country. It shows how closed off the people of North Korea are, the propaganda tactics that have been used against them, how much control the government has over its people — and the unfortunate lack of development in the nation.
2.) “Under the Sun” (2015). Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky wanted to make a film about life in North Korea, but when he got there, the government gave him zero creative control. Officials wanted him to make a propaganda film about how great things were in the country.
Mansky acquiesced, sort of; he also secretly recorded the government’s overreach in a movie that follows the life of a family in the country for a year. It shows how a young girl in the family is indoctrinated with propaganda so that she can join the Korean Children’s Union, a precursor to the Workers’ Party of Korea, the country’s far-Left militant political party.
3.) “The Red Chapel” (2009). Although this film has a humorous side, the movie, featuring three Danish comedians who travel to North Korea, is also informative. They travel to perform for Kim Jong-il and subtly mock North Korea.
It shows how ignorant the country is about the outside world; North Koreans cannot see that the comedians’ over-the-top behavior makes fun of them.
One standout point: The film touches on the country’s treatment of the disabled. One of the comedians in the troupe, Jacob Nossell, who has spastic paralysis, becomes upset when he realizes there is no one like him among the thousands of people they see — because the disabled are cast out of mainstream society.
4.) “Crossing the Line” (2006). During the Cold War, six American soldiers crossed over the demilitarized zone and into North Korea. Producers for this documentary spoke with two of those men: James Joseph Dresnok and Charles Robert Jenkins.
By the time the film was released, Jenkins lived in Japan, but Dresnok was still loyal to North Korea. The documentary not only tells the interesting stories of the men’s lives, but it also really gives people an accurate idea of how the West and America are viewed by North Koreans.
5.) “Kimjongilia” (2009). Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, this documentary still has not received a ton of exposure, but its content is worth a look. The film offers honest interviews with North Korean defectors themselves. Many spent time in the country’s prison camps, and they discuss the human rights violations they witnessed.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, and other outlets.
(photo credit, homepage image: Icarus Films; photo credit, article image: Lober Films)