Aim High In Creation
Sydney-based filmmaker Anna Broinowski set herself an amazingly difficult task and she has managed to pull it off amazingly well. Seeking permission to enter North Korea is in itself a difficult task but to go there with the express purpose of making a short film - essentially a film-within-a-film with the core story a propaganda tale of heroic workers overthrowing an evil Coal Seam Gas mining company that is encased with a truly unique insight into North Korean filmmaking - is a mammoth assignment.
Getting that film completed and approved by the regime (even simply getting out of said regime in one piece) would seem to be an impossibility – somehow, she and her crew did it.
Aim High In Creation was first inspired by Broinowski’s introduction to the Kim Jong Il filmmaking manifesto – The Cinema and Directing – and rather than simply letting the humour spew forth in a tide of mockery, Broinowski does her best to tell a story, a story with a human heart.
“Obviously with the film we didn’t want to mock the North Koreans at all but at the same time their world is so completely different and their filmmaker methodology is stuck in a time warp in a way,” Broinowski says. “They’ve shut themselves off from all aspects of the outside world so that includes technology and filmmaking technology since 1953. The film-within-a-film is a North Korean propaganda film that I make with them. It would have been so easy to have made that a total piss-take because the North Koreans are very fond of things like, well every single film whether it’s a military epic or a serious bio-pic; they always have people bursting into song at random moments - even on battlefields. They have strange ‘70s tracking shots that we haven’t seen in 30 years and it was almost tempting to do a send up but it would’ve been a cheap shot.”
That challenge was met and overcome and while Aim High In Creation has some of its creative license shackled by diplomatic obligation and cultural sensitivity, you will go a long way to ever see anything like it again. “The North Korean filmmakers were so generous to us, they made our project their own and were just so sweet and sincere, so our challenge was to take what was best about North Korean movie making and to try and make it work in our short film made by Western cast and crew. I don’t know if we succeeded or not; I know the North Korean’s watched it and they liked it,” she says.
The screening in North Korea was a closed-door showing. The film won’t be receiving an official public release but it was approved, and that is a relief for all involved.
“Yeah in a way it was [a relief] I guess, but probably more so for the guy who took it in than for us,” she says with a reluctant and relieved chuckle. “If they were gonna punish anyone it was gonna be him I guess. But no, they felt that I had followed their rules properly and they were OK with the short film. There’s a line in the film that’s just a little bit critical of China and we were worried they wouldn’t like that but even that was OK.”
The human element of this film is so central to Broinowski’s story and her experience. The North Korean film industry may be hilariously dated and chained to the demands of the “Dear Leader” but artists are artists, no matter where they live. “Their films are funded by the state, there’s no money raising producer, so of course you’re only a filmmaker in North Korea for as long as you make films that the regime approves of,” she says. “At the end of the day though, the filmmakers are still artists. They are required to put in propaganda messages but when I met some of the better directors over there they are still just storytellers and some of those stories are really quite good.”
Another integral part of Broinowski’s journey was to remind western audiences that we are all victims of propaganda in one way or another. Sure, North Korean propaganda may have all the obvious characteristics of an Orwellian dictatorship but we are not, ourselves, immune. “The kind of propaganda that we live under is capitalist propaganda,” she says. “We’re treated as consumers who are lead to believe we are free to choose and yet are barraged with products that as good consumers and good citizens, expected to buy. All systems use propaganda to keep citizens in check and I think what really struck me was how serene and refreshing it was for someone who lives in the western world – in Sydney – to go to a country for three and a half weeks and not see a single billboard, no ads making you feel like you’re somehow inferior because you don’t have this or that product, and instead I place of that there are hand painted murals on bus stops and stunning 1930s-style propaganda art. For a jaded westerner it was a true materialism detox. I think what I’m trying to say is, well I’m not trying to say that North Korean doesn’t have a great deal of oppression, I’m just trying to say to audiences ‘Look, before we judge the North Koreans for using their form of propaganda, let’s think about ours.’”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Aim High In Creation is screening as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival at the Forum Theatre on Wednesday August 7 and at the Greater Union Cinema 4 on Sunday August 11.