know someone in North Korea, then you have just cause to be concerned for their
well-being. With reports re-surfacing of
widespread famine and worse, loosing contact with family in the closed Communist
nation would not inspire optimism. When
the annual letters from filmmaker Jason Lee’s uncles stopped coming, his father
became understandably anxious, embarking on a family fact-finding mission documented
in Lee’s short film, Letters from
screens during the 2013 Korean American Film Festival in New York.
into the DPRK requires superhuman bureaucratic hoop-jumping, even from
Canada. After getting more no’s than
Stephen Merchant in a singles bar, Lee and his father finally received the
requisite approvals for their visit.
However, in a massively anticlimactic turn of events, they learn Lee’s
two uncles died several years ago, just prior to embarking. They continue on anyway, hoping to pay their
respects and connect with the family they have never known.
follows vividly illustrates the stilted nature of tourism in oppressed
countries. The Lees’ minders show them
plenty of imposing Socialist monuments, but they are only allowed a brief
meeting with their extended North Korean relatives in the lobby of their
hotel. Presumably, Lee the filmmaker has
little to say about this conspicuous police state behavior because Lee the
nephew is concerned about his uncles’ families.
That is completely understandable but highly problematic from a
cinematic standpoint, resulting in too many scenes of Lee and his father duly
taking in one epic statue after another.
Documenting family members living under a
ruthless regime is obviously a tricky proposition, but Yang Yonghi walked that
fine line rather deftly with her more forthright documentary Dear Pyongyang. Arguably, the more her family members were
on-camera and the wider she exhibited her film, the more protected they were as
a practical matter. While perceptive
viewers can always glean something from a peak behind the DPRK’s iron curtain, Letters lacks than insight and drama of
Hein Seok’s Seeking Haven, also
screening at this year’s KAFFNY. For
voracious North Korea watchers, it screens this Saturday (10/26) at the Village
East as part of the Forgotten War Shorts
Labels: Canadian Cinema, Documentary, KAFFNY '13, North Korea, Short Films