Director Anna Broinowski is no stranger to confrontation; kicking off her documentary career with Hell Bento
, a film that exposed subsections of the Japanese underworld. More recently she directed a startling fib-filled terror tale about Muslim romance called Forbidden Lie$
. It was probably less of a surprise, then, to see her giddily striding around North Korea, always smiling and happily accepting any problems coming her way. Thankfully, Aim High In Creation
is not a searing indictment of the repressed state of the DPRK, it instead seeks to utilize one of its most cherished resources: the film industry.
Anna is on a mission that toes the line in the film more than once. She seeks to stop Coal seam gas mining in her local suburb and park sides. This is a big issue in Australia, and a hotly debated one with many opposing the mining citing heath concerns, although there is not concrete evidence of this impact. Regardless Anna is in staunch opposition to it and devises a plan to make a propaganda film that will hopefully encourage the populace to rise up over the evil capitalist tyrants and put an end to their greed.
The production may be an Australian one, but the film takes us to Pyongyang, North Korea, where Anna is introduced to the key players in the film industry. Initially, I was really impressed with the level of access and freedom she had both in location and the questions she elicits. It made sense after learning post-film that it took her years to gain this clearance and that many answers to her questions were still cut.
It is still deeply fascinating and she meets some truly wonderful characters. From one of the DPRK's most renowned directors (and her mentor) to Kim Jong-il's favorite actress. Each character brings with them a hidden agenda and carefully planned words, but also true warmth and individualism.
The situations Anna finds herself in become quite bizarre. It is in these moments, aided by the sly commentary from the North Koreans, where the biggest laughs come in. I was surprisingly in fits of laughter at times and it is so refreshing to consider none of it came from outright derision.
The rest of the laughs come from the 'mking-of' of Anna's propaganda film. She casts Australian actors who receive instruction from her based on what she learned in North Korea. The Dear Leader's hand book to film making has some key golden rules which Anna tries to perfect - from breaking into song mid-film to garnering true emotion and genuine reaction over 'simply acting'. These rules make up the chapters in the film and each is explored thoroughly and entertainingly.
Mid-way through, the film veers into a heavy-handed look into coal seam gas, capturing some locals sad tales of what the gas mining is doing to them, and tenuously tying this back to the propaganda. This does not really work, but because Anna has stated her intentions from the beginning and it is ultimately forgivable. The other sequence that is also not as strong as the rest of the film is the Australian propaganda film itself, which lacks the desired impact compared to its actual conception and making-of.
Other than these moments, the film is peppered with hilarious, intriguing, and surreal scenes of North Korean inspired film-making tips, techniques, and rehearsals. Aim High In Creation
is an excellent documentary that fully engages the audience and leaves us with nice thoughts about the North Korean people.Aim High In Creation had its world premiere at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more of Kwenton's MIFF Coverage, see ScreenAnarchy's MIFF landing page. In addition Hugo Ozman reviewed MIFF title and North Korean film Comrade Kim Goes Flying, which Kwenton greatly enjoyed, and can be read here.
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