a child born into a life in North Korea’s prison camps, Shin Dong-huyk thought
nothing was amiss when he witnessed the three hour beating of an eight year old
girl caught with five grains of wheat in her pocket. Evidently, Dennis Rodman, the regime’s newest
apologist, has no problems with it either.
However, all viewers of good conscience will be horrified by the stories
Shin and two former DPRK officials have to tell in Marc Wiese’s documentary Camp 14—Total Control Zone (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
poor girl died from the injuries she sustained from her “teacher.” Her case is the norm rather than the
exception. Children born to prisoners (because
a guard either raped their mothers or arranged a coupling as a reward for heavy
toiling) have a short life expectancy.
Shin beat the odds surviving Camp 14 into his teen years, but at a
price. At one point, Shin’s brainwashing
led him to make a decision that still haunts him today.
Kwon was a guard at Camp 22, where he tortured and executed prisoners on a
daily basis. Oh Yangnam was a member of
the secret police, who regularly rounded-up and interrogated suspects on the
thinnest of pretexts. Both have defected
to South Korea, yet they worry they might see some of the prisoners they once
tormented should the two Koreas ever unify.
Their accounts match Shin’s experiences, chapter and verse.
their testimony, sometimes illustrated by Ali Soozandeh’s stark animated
sequences, Control conveys the
breadth and depth of the Communist regime’s thought control. Clearly, any notion of human rights is
absolutely foreign to North Koreans. Ostensibly,
Control ends on an ironic note, with
Shin expressing his ambivalence about the free South. Yet, his remarks really prove just how
profoundly broken he is as a human being.
has assembled a riveting examination of oppression and its lasting impact on
the human psyche. While he maintains an
intimate focus on his interview subjects, Soozandeh’s animation is grimly
evocative, adding a truly cinematic dimension to the documentary.
This is a very good film, but also a very
depressing one. The picture of North Korea that emerges is truly the closest
thing on Earth to Orwell’s 1984—a dystopian state with complete disregard for its
citizens’ well being. However, it points
viewers towards Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a rescue and advocacy
organization Shin is affiliated with.
Frankly, this is exactly the sort of film HRWFF needs to program more
often (instead of Occupy Wall Street polemics).
Highly recommended, it screens this coming Thursday (6/20) at the IFC
Center and next Friday (6/21) at FSLC’s Francesca Beale Theater.
Labels: Animated films, Documentary, HRWFF '13, North Korea, Shin Dong-huyk