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Question of the Day
Held every two years, the Pyongyang International Film Festival offers North Koreans their only chance to see a wide array of foreign films on the big screen _ from Britain, Germany and elsewhere (but not America). And it’s the only time foreigners are allowed into North Korean theaters to watch movies alongside locals.
This year, festivalgoers will get the chance to see two feature films shot in North Korea but edited overseas: the romantic comedy “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” a joint North Korean-European production, and “Meet in Pyongyang,” made in conjunction with a Chinese studio.
Foreign offerings include a Sherlock Holmes film and the romantic comedy “The Decoy Bride” from Britain, the Jet Li kung fu film “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” the French hit “Women on the 6th Floor” about a community of Spanish emigres to Paris, and two love stories from Iran.
While it’s true that homegrown movies predictably tend toward communist propaganda with a healthy dose of tear-jerker, North Korea is a film-crazy country. Well-to-do residents pay as much as 500 won (about $5 according to official exchange rates) to see new releases from the government-run Korean Film Studio, as well as Russian and Chinese imports.
Those who don’t have the means to go to the theater tune into the Mansudae TV channel, which shows mostly Chinese and Eastern European films on weekends. Some recent offerings have included “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and the only Western offering shown on state TV in recent memory, the British film “Bend It Like Beckham,” which aired in 2010.
This year, a huge screen in front of the Pyongyang train station has become another popular place to watch movies. On Monday, hundreds of locals stood transfixed by a North Korean drama in a plaza in front of the station.
The late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in December, was a notorious film buff.
He was 7 when he saw his first film _ “My Hometown” _ the inaugural film made at by the Korean Film Studio. The film, about a young man who returns to his village after Korea is liberated from Japan, made a lifelong impression on the future leader, according to Choe Hung Ryol, director of the studio’s external affairs department.
In 1973 Kim published a treatise called “On the Art of the Cinema,” in which he extolled filmmaking as a way to aid the people’s “development into true communists.”
“Creative work is not a mere job, but an honorable revolutionary task,” he wrote.
In 1978, Kim “recruited” a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee. According to the late director’s memoirs, he was lured to Pyongyang to make propaganda films, but he and his wife slipped away from their bodyguards during a 1986 trip to Vienna.
Kim’s father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, also wrote a film called “The Flower Girl,” and current leader Kim Jong Un also has a keen interest in film, according to Korean Film Studio spokesman Choe.
“Our films carry a different purpose than movies made in other countries,” he said. “We make films for the purpose of ideological education.”
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