does this sound to you? “Sure, there were human rights abuses in Hitler’s
Germany, but they produced some really entertaining propaganda films.”
Absolutely unacceptable, right? Yet, Australian filmmaker Anna Broinowski essentially
makes the equivalent argument for North Korea, except she never really
acknowledges the Kim dynasty’s appalling oppression of its own people. Instead,
she happily heads to the DPRK for pointers on how to make an anti-fracking
propaganda film in Aim High in Creation, which
screens during the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival.
to Frontline, it is estimated one out
every one hundred North Koreans is a political prisoner. In that Orwellian
state, it is not just perceived thought criminals who are purged, but also two
generations of their families, in both directions. Apparently, Broinowski has
no real problem with what she euphemistically calls North Korea’s “closed
society,” but “fracking” generates no end of moral indignation.
assembling her annoying hipster cast, Broinowski jets off to North Korea to get
tips from the propaganda masters. She sees all the monumental sites, hanging on
her minders’ every word. Not once does she challenge anything said to her,
passively accepting their charges of American war crimes. She also readily
agrees her native Australia is a country of drunks.
the idea was to simply record the state of affairs in North Korea and let the
surreal images speak for themselves. However, that approach still requires
Broinowski ask the blindingly obvious questions, to cue the resulting
dissembling. That never happens. Instead, she obsequiously sucks up to the
propaganda filmmakers, like a star-struck teenager.
it takes courage to speak truth to the apparatus of control in a “closed
society.” Few will ever live up to the gold standard set by Mads Brügger in Red Chapel, but those filmmakers
fortunately enough to gain access to the rogue state have to at least try. If
Broinowski lost her nerve when faced with the regime’s everyday pervasiveness,
she should have scrapped the film and preserved her dignity. Instead, her
brown-nosing is just embarrassing.
times, Broinowski’s own images contradict her words, as when she claims there
are no advertisements to be seen in North Korean. We can see this is patently
false. Pyongyang is covered in propaganda posters and murals, which are indeed
advertisements selling blind obedience to the state. She simply finds their
aesthetic consistency pleasing, which is what happens when the state exercises absolute
control over all means of expression.
value seems to be placed on Broinowski’s “just folks” interactions with her propaganda
colleagues, as if the audience will be shocked when they do not immediately
throw the thumb screws on her, while singing the Internationale, but of course
they are carefully crafting their image. These are propagandists, after all.
surprisingly, the resulting anti-fracking propaganda short is utterly
unwatchable. However, if enough people see it, The Gardener should secure the safe and profitable production of
coal seam gas for many generations to come, which is exactly the legacy Aim High deserves. To return to the
original question, National Socialism boasted a stable of world renowned filmmakers
that included Leni Riefenstahl and the now discredited Viet Harlan. Arguably,
one could learn something from their work, whereas their North Korean counterparts
are literally following the Great Leader’s formula.
High represents a massive editing room meltdown, or it is a profound failure
to document the reality of one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. In
any event, it is not worthy of your ticket dollars, especially when there are
so many great films still to come at this year’s NYAFF, including the bizarrely
heartbreaking Miss Zombie and the
deeply moving Great Passage. Both are
highly recommended, but Aim High in
Creation is definitely not when it screens tomorrow (7/10).
Labels: North Korea, NYAFF '14, Propaganda films