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North Korea

North Korea


Director: N.C. Heikin

North Korea is one of the world's most isolated nations. For sixty years, North Koreans have been governed by a totalitarian regime. A cult of personality surrounds its two recent leaders: first, Kim Il Sung, and now, his son, Kim Jong Il. For Kim Jong Il's 46th birthday, a hybrid begonia named kimjongilia was created, symbolizing wisdom, love, justice, and peace. The film draws its name from this bright red flower and reveals the extraordinary stories told by survivors of North Korea's vast prison camps, of deadly famine, and of every kind of repression. In a series of devastating interviews with refugees, director N.C. Helkin traces their torturous paths to freedom, on rickety sailboats and across mountain passes, while exposing the inhuman conditions they suffered in the nation's concentration camps. Their experiences are interspersed with archival footage of North Korean propaganda films and original scenes that illuminate the contours of daily life for a people whose every action is monitored, and whose every thought could bring official retribution. Along with the survivors' stories, Kimjongilia examines the mass illusion possible under totalitarianism and the human rights abuses required to maintain that illusion.

DVD (English, Korean, Color, With English Subtitles) / 2009 / 74 minutes

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Director: Jim, Finn
Starring: Daniela Kostova, Jung Yoon Lee, Kim Sung, Oleg Mavromatti

In the late 1960's Kim Jong Il guaranteed his succession as the Dear Leader of North Korea by adapting his father's Juche (pronounced choo-CHAY) philosophy to propaganda, film and art. Translated as self-reliance, Juche is a hybrid of Confucian and authoritarian Stalinist pseudo-socialism. The film is about a South Korean video artist who comes to a North Korean art residency to help bring Juche cinema into the 21st century. Inspired by the real-life story of the South Korean director kidnapped in the 70's to invigorate the North Korean film industry, the film follows Yoon Jung Lee, a young video artist invited to work at a Juche art residency on a North Korean collective farm. The story is told through the films she made at the residency as well as interviews with a Bulgarian filmmaker and even a brief sci-fi movie.

DVD (Color) / 2008 / 62 minutes

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This exclusive portrait is the first to portray North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, with interviews of North and South Korean politicians, as well as close relatives and former employees who have fled the regime. The government is secretive and little is known about Jong-il. He managed to retain power after his father Kim Il- Sung's death in 1994. By 1997, North Korea had become one of the most isolated countries in the world, with an economy in shambles and frequent famines, causing the death of millions of his compatriots. Jong-il's regime has made North Korea a nuclear rogue state threatening the security of the world.

Having grown up among the military and political operatives of his father's government, Jong-il was appointed his father's propaganda chief. By writing and directing films, ballets and operas glorifying his father and himself, he created a remarkable personality cult around his father. This he extended to encompass himself, thereby legitimizing the father-son political succession. He has a reputation as a vain and capricious playboy, having been married five times and has had many mistresses, some chosen from the "Pleasure Brigade" of young women used by his cronies and himself. He lives in great opulence, feasting on rare foods and drinking heavily.

Kim Dae Jung, the former President of South Korea and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize recalls his visit to Kim Jong-il in 2001 when Jong- il told him he wished to improve relations with the U.S. His message was passed on to President G.W. Bush. Despite this, Bush demonized Jong-il, declaring North Korea to be part of an "axis of evil" in 2002. As a result, U.S. - North Korean relations have worsened considerably over the past six years.

DVD / 2008 / (College, Adult) / 26 minutes

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Director: Daniel Gordon
Starring: Charles Robert Jenkins, James Dresnok

An "unforgettable documentary" (New York Daily News), Crossing the Line is the "absolutely fascinating" (Hollywood Reporter) story of James Joseph Dresnok, a US Army private who in 1962 stunned the world by walking across the violently contested DMZ that cuts Korea in two and defecting to the communist North.

Taking full advantage of access granted by the government of North Korea, the "axis of evil's" mysterious and feared rogue state, director Daniel Gordon (The Game of Their Lives, A State of Mind) combines historical footage with contemporary interviews to both uncover the Kim-Jong Il regime and end 44 years of secrecy and rumor by allowing Dresnok to tell his own story.

Despite spending more than half his life living, working, and raising a family in North Korea, "Comrade Joe," as Western media dubbed Dresnok when he walked into infamy at the height of the Cold War, remains a man of eternally divided loyalties. From his appalling childhood in a rural 1950's Virginia foster home, to interviews with his fellow GI's, to "amazing footage" (New York Post) of Dresnok playing the villain in Kim-Jong Il's personally produced propaganda films, Crossing the Line "makes an already compelling story even more so" (Hollywood Reporter) by intimately revealing a character "worthy of Werner Herzog's delusional hero-victims" (New York Sun).

  • "...the tone is matter-of-fact rather than emotional and all the more effective for it." - Recommended Video Librarian

    DVD (English, Korean, Color, With English Subtitles) / 2007 / 91 minutes

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    Directed by Brian McKenna

    This film documents a war where neither side was victorious, nor defeated, a struggle that came very close to thermonuclear war, and that still resonates in the geopolitical machinations between East and West.

    From 1950 to 1953 more than a million men fought under the United Nations flag, with most of the manpower from the United States. More Americans were killed in that war than in Vietnam. The boundary between North and South remains the most militarized zone in the world. The war is still shrouded in secrecy; questions remain about whether biological weapons were used.

    Korea: The Unfinished War combines archival footage, first person accounts with soldiers and civilians on both sides, direct quotes from Truman, MacArthur, Mao and Stalin, clearly showing their roles in the conflict. Atrocities on both sides are cited. In the years since there has been an uneasy truce, often broken, between the Koreas. But beyond that, the Korean War bequeathed a global hangover which haunts mankind todayˇXbiological weapons. The films investigates Chinese and North Korean charges that the U.S. secretly deployed these weapons during the war.

    This important film provides the background for today's fear of nuclear testing by North Korea.

    DVD / 2007 / (College, Adult) / 114 minutes

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    By I Sun-Dyung

    North Korea is known as the hermit kingdom because it has been cut off from the rest of the world. Cruelly colonized by Japan early in the 20th century, and split from the south after World War II by cold war politics, it has suffered repressive governments and frequent famines.

    This film, made by I Sun-Dyung, the daughter of Korean immigrants, was an attempt to understand the country that has been demonized by the West, particularly the US. She was the first western journalist allowed entry. Her film traces the history of Korea in the 20th century and includes fascinating interviews with some of the world1s foremost experts on North Korea, including Prof. Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago, and Donald Rickerd of the Center for Asia Pacific Studies, who give fresh perspective on this enigmatic country.

    We learn that communist ideology has taken a back seat to the philosophy of "Juche" Il Sung. Kim Il Sung was revered as "the great liberator" from Japan1s brutal rule. Most North Koreans are loyal to his son, their present leader Kim Jong -IL who succeeded his father in 1994. Despite having suffered severe food shortages, North Koreans have been taught that they can survive on their own. The country feels threatened by America and believes its nuclear weapons are "chips" in a power struggle with the West. Included are in -depth interviews with a former bodyguard of the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-IL and testimonies from defectors and survivors of the country1s infamous concentration camps. This fascinating film contributes to our understanding of an important player in the geopolitcs of the 21st century.

    DVD / 2004 / (College, Adult) / 52 minutes

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    Director: Daniel Gordon

    A State of Mind follows two North Korean schoolgirls and their families in the lead up to the "Mass Games" -- the biggest and most elaborate human performance on earth -- and in the process reveals more of North Korea than ever before.

    Following on from the 2002 award winning documentary The Game of Their Lives,VeryMuchSo productions was granted permission from the North Korean film authorities to make a second documentary: an observational film following two young gymnasts, 13 year old Pak Hyon Sun and 11 year old Kim Song Yun, and their families for over eight months in the lead up to the Mass Games -- involving a cast of thousands in a choreographed socialist realism spectacular -- the biggest and most elaborate human performance on earth.

    A State of Mind provides a rare glimpse into what is one of the world's least known societies. North Korea is sealed off from outside influences. It borders China and Russia to the north, and to the south there is a 4km wide impenetrable border with South Korea. The country follows its own communist ideals, a strict philosophy known as the Juche Idea wrapped around the worship of the Kim dynasty ˇV Kim Il Sung, their Eternal President who died in 1994 but remains Head of State, and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, known as the General.

    The crew began filming in February 2003 with unique access to the two families' day to day life from home, at work in the city and countryside -- a remarkable insight into a part of North Korean society never before allowed. As their Korean minder explained "you have to understand, no one has ever been allowed to see, let alone film, what you are witnessing."

    Western eyes, for the very first time, have a unique insight into North Korean society, its people, its way of life, and its total devotion to their leader and ruler, Kim Jong Il.

  • "A generally evenhanded, and in some ways chilling, look at a world almost totally the opposite of our own, A State of Mind is a provocative, well-done film." - Recommended Video Librarian

    DVD (English, Korean, Color, With English Subtitles) / 2004 / 94 minutes

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    By Kim Jung-Eun

    Since 1995 two million North Koreans have starved to death from famine. Hundreds of thousands of others have illegally crossed the border to China in search of food. This documentary, filmed in the remote northeast mountains of China, captures the dire circumstances of these refugees, who must subsist furtively in primitive caves, under floorboards and in basements. If caught they will be sent back and put to death.

    Families have been torn apart. Many North Korean refugees have had to hand their children over to Chinese orphanages where the children will at least get enough to eat and an education. Or they have been forced to give their children up for adoption.

    The stories are heart-rending. One family had to leave their five year old in an orphanage as he wailed "don't leave me." Orphaned and abandoned children live on the streets where they beg for food. Shadows and Whispers brings us up close to the human beings who become merely statistics on the evening news. With the recent rapprochment between North and South Korea, conditions will hopefully improve.

  • Association for Asian Studies, 2002

    DVD / 2002 / (College, Adult) / 52 minutes

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    The rise of a new youth subculture in the Republic of Korea is an outgrowth of dramatic changes occurring there in the 1990's. The country elected its first civilian president, it experienced new prosperity, and became increasingly exposed to Western influences. Young Koreans became exposed to the internet and a steady stream of new musical influences. Our Nation is a stunning portrayal of how Korean youth are using punk rock to find their voices in a rapidly changing culture.

    Through the eyes of two young college age fans, we journey through the underground punk rock scene. The small club "Drug" features bands with names like Crying Nut, No Brain and Weeper, and the all-female band Supermarket. To Americans the flashing lights, stomping bodies, blaring sounds and angry incantations are nothing new. But seeing it in an Asian culture known for restraint raises many questions. Sociology professor Cho Hae Joang provides a socio-historical overview of the youth subcultures in Korea, and the emergence of consumer capitalism with the concomitant economic crisis of the late 90's. Our Nation gives air to a multiplicity of voices on issues such as the role of the school system in the lives of Korean youth, their relationships with their parents, and indeed the impact of globalization on the culture.

  • "The film, like the scene it sets out to document, is fast paced,youthful, stylish, and frenetic. It will hold and intrigue American youth audiences..." - Asian Educational Media Service, University of Illinois

  • "Overall, this is a good film that audiences from high school on up should enjoy. Recommended for music, popular culture, sociology, Asian studies." - Robert Freeborn, Pennsylvania State University Educational Media Reviews Online

  • "recommended for Asian studies collections and public libraries in communities with active Korean patronage." - Library Journal

  • Association for Asian Studies, 2002
  • Chicago Asian American Showcase, 2002
  • New York Underground Film Festival, 2002
  • Seoul Punk Rock Film Festival, 2001

    DVD / 2002 / (College, Adult) / 39 minutes

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    By Peter Tetteroo

    This film, shot mostly covertly, shows the irony of a regime where 20 million people lived in poverty, some on the brink of starvation, while former dictator Kim II Sung built extravagant monuments to reflect his power. He fostered a grotesque personality cult, which his son and successor Kim Jong Il perpetuates. All around the capital, Pyongyang, an endless stream of propaganda glorifies the leaders. Monuments and museums pay homage to them, but they are strangely empty.

    The contrast between capitalist South Korea and the impoverished North is dramatically shown. The founder of Hyundai, Tsjoen Joe Jung is held in great esteem in the south. He believes in uniting the two Koreas and has made significant donations to economic development in the north, trying to ease the way to reunion.

    The film crew was not allowed to interview people at random. The ones "selected to speak to foreigners" gave an idealized image of the regime that was hardly credible. Footage shot secretly by a Chinese relief organization attests to a generation dying from starvation and disease, and suffering terrible human rights abuses. Welcome to North Korea captures in a vivid manner the tight grip the regime has on its people, with a power not used benevolently.

  • "Recommended. After viewing this technically excellent film, and acknowledging that 1,000,000 soldiers face one another on the border, one comes away understanding the danger to world peace that this clash of cultures has produced." - David W. Sewicki, Butler Library, Buffalo State College for EMRO

  • "gives students a glimpse into a country that has been virtually closed to the rest of the world." - School Library Journal

  • Seattle International Documentary Film Festival, 2003
  • Chicago International Documentary Film Festival, 2003

  • Best Documentary, International EMMY Awards, 2001

    DVD / 2002 / (College, Adult) / 52 minutes

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    Directed by Solrun Hoaas

    This DVD looks at South Korea's uncomfortable but growing acceptance of North Korea over a two-year period. Filmmaker Solrun Hoaas, director of Pyongyang Diaries, an earlier film on North Korea, gained unprecedented access to former political prisoners, student dissidents, writers, artists, and others affected by a Government caught between its new open-door "Sunshine Policy" and the remnants of a Cold War anticommunist mentality. The DVD is a combination of the essay genre and the filmmaker's journey of exploration, an effort to unravel the issues that intrigue and puzzle her about Korean society and its engagement with the North. It draws on footage recorded from 1998 to 2000, which has been a period of economic upheaval and enormous change in Korea, particularly in the relationship between North and South Korea.

  • "...could very well spark discussions in classrooms." - Library Journal

  • "Rushing to Sunshine provide[s] an excellent audiovisual aid for teachers at nearly all grade levels above elementary school to teach about North and South Korea...It is a coherent and compelling study in attitudes toward unification and North Korea...Does a good job of moving between the general and the particular, focusing on the large issues of South Korean ambivalence toward the North, the national security laws, and the role of the Left in Korean politics, and the smaller issues..." - Prof. R. Richard Grinker, The Journal of Asian Studies

    DVD (Color) / 2001 / 73 minutes

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    Directed by Hak J. Chung

    Korean American filmmaker Hak J. Chung explores his own identity by taking a close look at a very engaging family. The Yates' household consists of the father, a black Korean war veteran, his war bride and their three grown children. This love match has endured for thirty-five years because of the couple's intellectual and spiritual unity. When they first settled in America, they faced discrimination and misunderstanding.

    We learn how their children felt growing up as mixed race kids in a home where both cultures were valued. However, it is a surprise to learn that this seemingly well-adjusted family cannot escape the pain of cultural miscommunication. The beloved eldest son is estranged from his parents because his blonde wife and his mother are at odds. His wife does not understand the nuances of her in-laws expectations. His mother is offended that his wife won't eat kimchi and addresses her by her first name.

    This candid film makes a valuable contribution to resources on multiculturalism and diversity.

  • "Endlessly fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable." - Chicago Sun Times

  • "The couple, Mr. And Mrs. Yates, are so forthcoming and charismatic discussing their 35-year marriage, the racism they1ve stared down, the problems faced by their biracial kids. The couple will steal your heart." - L.A. Weekly

    DVD / 1999 / (High School, College, Adult) / 25 minutes

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    By Solrun Hoaas

    PYONGYANG DIARIES is director Solrun Hoaas' personal account of her encounter with the closed society of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    While the official line in North Korea fosters an almost religious cult of personality, with an emphasis on uniformity, nationalism, and a sense of self-reliance, Hoaas' observations, conversations, and diary entries belie underlying contradictions and inconsistencies.

    The film begins with the death of revered leader Kim Il Sung. Hoaas records the events memorializing his life and his victory over the thirty-five year colonial rule by the Japanese, which ended in 1945. From there she looks at the role of the arts in easing the transition period from Kim Il Sung's government to that of his son Kim Jong Il, and in bolstering confidence during difficult times in general.

    Still, as much as life improved after independence, poverty, hunger, and various social restrictions remain. And although a writing brush stands in between the hammer and the sickle in a state sponsored piece of sculpture, symbolizing the importance of artists and intellectuals, conversations with artists reveal the strict guidelines they must follow in order to show their work.

    While Hoaas was editing the film, North Korea's worsening famine became world news. It is with a keen awareness of the potential crisis that she frames this portrait of a relatively unknown culture.

  • "An excellent audiovidual aid for teachers at nearly all grade levels. Present[s] voices and images of North Koreans - both in North Korea and in South Korea - that often remain absent from courses on East Asia." - Professor R. Richard Grinker, George Washington University, for the Journal of Asian Studies

  • "Rare and unusual... The film stands virtually alone, at least among English-language documentaries, in its balanced, non-ideological and humane attempts to get 'inside' the DPRK and show some of the contradiction, complexity, and diversity of life in today's North Korea. A remarkable film simply for the fact of being made... makes a great contribution to awareness of this little-seen and poorly understood country. It provides a much needed counterbalance to the available print and film resources on Korea." - Professor Charles Armstrong, Columbia University, for the Asian Educational Media Service's 'News and Reviews'

  • "An interesting piece of work [and] a more accurate depiction of the people of North Korea. [The film] makes it possible... to get a glimpse of a country that previously was only imagined." - Korean Quarterly

  • "Straightforward and somber, a definite asset when documenting such a serious and sensitive history. Recommended for all libraries." - Educational Media Reviews Online

    DVD (Color) / 1998 / 52 minutes

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    Directors: Lisa Sleeth & Jim Butterworth

    With its riveting footage of a secretive "underground railroad," SEOUL TRAIN is the gripping documentary expose into the life and death of North Koreans as they try to escape their homeland and China.

    SEOUL TRAIN also delves into the complex geopolitics behind this growing and potentially explosive humanitarian crisis. By combining verite footage, personal stories and interviews with experts and government officials, SEOUL TRAIN depicts the flouting of international laws by major countries, the inaction and bureaucracy of the United Nations, and the heroics of activists that put themselves in harm's way to save the refugees.

  • "Drive, walk, run - but however you do it, be sure to see 'Seoul Train,' a wrenching documentary." - Denver Post

  • "So compelling that you can't stop watching, even though you know it will haunt your dreams." - The Wall Street Journal

  • "A brilliant documentary" - New York Times

  • WINNER - BEST FILM, 6 December 2005 - ONE WORLD - Pristina (Pristina, Kosovo)
  • WINNER - AUDIENCE AWARD, BEST FILM, 26-30 August 2005 - Libertas - Dubrovnik Film Festival (Dubrovnik. Croatia)
  • WINNER - BEST DOCUMENTARY, 26-30 August 2005 - Libertas - Dubrovnik Film Festival (Dubrovnik. Croatia)
  • WINNER - AUDIENCE AWARD, BEST FILM, 10-14 August 2005 - Crested Butte Reel Fest (Crested Butte, CO)
  • WINNER - SILVER AWARD, BEST DOCUMENTARY, 10-14 August 2005 - Crested Butte Reel Fest (Crested Butte, CO)
  • WINNER - BEST EDITING, 8 July 2005 - Best of Milan International Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA)
  • WINNER - INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD, 12 June 2005 - Brooklyn International Film Festival
  • WINNER - BEST GLOBAL INSIGHT FILM, 10 June 2005 - Jackson Hole Film Festival (Jackson Hole, WY)
  • WINNER - BEST HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTARY, 23 April 2005 - Artivist Film Festival (Los Angeles)
  • WINNER - AUDIENCE AWARD, BEST DOCUMENTARY, 28 March - 2 April 2005 - Texas Film Festival
  • WINNER - BEST EDITING, 11-19 March 2005 - Milan International Film Festival (Milan, Italy)
  • WINNER - BEST DOCUMENTARY, 18 Feb 2005 - Boulder International Film Festival
  • WINNER - BEST DOCUMENTARY, 12 & 16 Nov 2004 - Ft. Lauderdale Int'l Film Festival

    DVD (English, Korean, Mandarin, With Discussion, facilitator's guide, English, Simplified Chinese, French Subtitles) / Approx. 54 minutes

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