A documentary intended as a portrayal of a happy family in North Korea has instead become a behind-the-scenes look at how the country’s authorities manipulate appearances.
The film “Under the Sun,” which airs at a film festival in Washington on Thursday, assembles smuggled outtakes to show the inner workings of how a propaganda film is made in North Korea, a country known for fiercely controlling its image.
With a script agreed upon by North Korean officials and Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, the project began as a portrait of a supposedly ordinary 8-year-old girl in Pyongyang named Ri Zin Mi, as she prepares to join the upcoming pageantry for the birthday of Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader. They also worked out access to the girl, her family, her home, her school, and even the workplaces of her parents.
It is unclear whether the film crew and the North Koreans ever had the same vision for how the film should turn out. But soon after filming began, the filmmakers began to chafe at the expectations of the North Korean authorities.
“It was completely fake,” said producer Simone Baumann. “They would come to the scene, and would tell the people what they have to do, where they have to sit, how they have to sit, how they have to smile, they would tell them what they have to say.”
Even a highly decorated war veteran is not immune: a minder interrupts him and tells him to finish up his war stories, and segue to his scripted lines.
And for a scene where the young Zin Mi is tucked into bed, two handlers are seen arranging the shot, right down to the blankets.
As disputes worsened over the direction of the project, North Korean authorities announced they were pulling the plug. But the filmmakers still had the footage, including the outtakes, thanks to a camera that was always rolling, and a recording system that used two memory cards instead of one.
By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell, CNN