Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 3:37 pm 
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Film made-to-order in North Korea intentionally gives itself away

"An officially approved documentary about life inside North Korea finds some revealing cracks in the propaganda image of shiny happy people living in paradise." This topic makes one think of Mads Brügger's Red Chapel (ND/NF 2010). That was not an "officially approved documentary," but Mads Brügger got away with it, by pretending to be filming himself and his crew on an educational-theatrical tour of the country. Mads's film, which you can watch here, is way more fun, but this new film is, in a way, more of a coup, and grimly realistic. It begins with the opening titles that read: "The script of this film was assigned to us by the North Korean side. They also kindly provided us with an around-the-clock escort service, chose our filming locations, and looked over all the footage we shot to make sure we didn't make any mistakes in showing the life of a perfectly ordinary family in the best country in the world, with a daughter preparing to join the Children's Union -- her first step on the way to becoming a part of the system created by the great Kim Il-sung."

Of course this project broke down midway, but Manskiy got out with footage revealing the charade in the making by leaving his camera running while government façade-managers (who Manskiy has said he realized were being directed from "the very highest level") were setting up shots or insisting they be redone to be more patriotic or cheerful.Manskiy evaded censorship by using cameras with two memory cards, one of which he kept each day to himself. ​ So this is like the Making Of a propaganda film for a dictatorship.

​Manskiy has compared what he was doing to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, which can be seen as both propaganda and a conscious demonstration of the fallacy of it. (But of course a film revealing propaganda can itself be considered propaganda, sort of.) Manskiy has said he's seeking in his films to understand the world of Ukraine under the Soviet Union that his parents lived in, that he was born into, but vanished before he turned thirty. He previously made another film in a communist regime, his Motherland or Death shot in Cuba.

Under The Sun/В лучах солнца (V lutsah solntsa, actually "The Rays of the Sun"), 106 mins., debuted at Leipzig and Jihlava and has shown in many fests including Tallinn, Trieste and Amsterdam in 2015, and in 2016 Helsinki, Zagreb, Luxembourg, Prague, SXSF, Thessaloniki, Bucharest, Hong Kong, Kiev, Vilnius, São Pula & Rio, and Istanbul, and San Francisco, where it was screened for this preview. Carmen Gray described the film and interviewed Manskiy for the Guardian. Stephen Dalton reviewed it for Hollywood Reporter Alyona Bocharova writes admiringly of the film and director in Russian in Afisha Daily and notes Manskiy recently "emigrated to Riga." The Russian government allegedly withdrew its support of the film when it learned of the North Koreans' displeasure with it. This débâcle (as N. Koreans see it) could be disastrous for any Koreans involved in it.

Under The Sun/В лучах солнца (V lutsah solntsa, actually "The Rays of the Sun"), 106 mins., debuted at Leipzig and Jihlava and has shown in many fests including Tallinn, Trieste and Amsterdam in 2015, and in 2016 Helsinki, Zagreb, Luxembourg, Prague, SXSF, Thessaloniki, Bucharest, Hong Kong, Kiev, Vilnius, São Paulo & Rio, Istanbul, and San Francisco, where it was originally screened for this review. (This is a full review of a film previewed here earlier.) US theatrical release begins July 6, 2016 (limited run at Film Forum, NYC).

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