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A Film I Wanted to Make (Kim Jong-il Gave Me a Break, Part 2)

February 1, 2012

Making a Film

I wanted to make a film in which I can show:

  1. Human faces of North Korean citizens; and
  2. To present major historical information on North Korea  from 1945 to present.

There have been books, articles, and films on North Korea. They all seemed to have a clear agenda against North Korea, based on interviews with “defectors,” food refugees, and illegal emigrants. Sadly, plenty of people have asked political—and somewhat obvious—questions and have brought back more or less the same stories, all about two monsters and their puppets. I found that many of those works reduce North Koreans to sad caricatures or else feed existing prejudices, instead of opening up better understanding.

I wanted to show that NK citizens are not puppets but they are human beings–ordinary people caught in a complex web of world politics, exacerbated by their two recent leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

You might ask, “How do you know that they were not puppets? Do you have any evidence?” I don’t know for sure and I don’t have any evidence. My conviction comes from my belief in humanity and the strong stuff Koreans are made of. I am one of them. No tyrants can kill that strong Korean spirit completely.

I’ve never visited NK since I left in the winter of 1945. A pilgrimage to the place of my birth would be meaningful and personal.  My own story could be a narrative arc for conveying a story of contemporary NK people and their recent history.

I planned to go back to Shin-chun, where I grew up until age seven.  I would talk with people, engaging them in small chats about ordinary things: Are you a mother? How many children do you have? What are your hopes for them? What would you say are the saddest and happiest moments in your life? These were the kind of questions I planned to keep in mind, avoiding direct political questioning. I expected at least two NK officials to follow me and my camera person, watching us and watching each other. I was confident that I would be able to get people to talk freely in their presence. I speak fluent Korean and would relearn my hometown dialect and accent in no time at all. And, for once in my adult life, I wouldn’t take a political stance. I would be a friendly old woman who has longed for her hometown all her life!

I was not naive enough to think that I would be going “home.” I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to go back home to North Korea, symbolically or otherwise. My home since 1979 has been and will always be Don. I would explore what happened to the place which could have been my home and the people who could have been my neighbors, to see if they have anything in common with me, in the name of humanity. Perhaps I might be able to prove wrong those who have so little faith in the human spirit as to believe that two leaders—one dead and the other close to death (at the beginning of this film project)—could make everyone in North Korea brain-damaged and controlled puppets. Perhaps I might be able to show that there are ordinary people living in North Korea: falling in love, getting married, raising children, taking care of the elderly, and longing for something beyond their reach. I didn’t know if I would succeed, but I won’t know unless I try.

I would figure out the way to provide historical information once I have had a chance to spend time with the people. Now all I needed was to obtain a permission to enter North Korea and spend time in my hometown, Shin-chun, in Hwang-hae province.


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