Smuggled footage of what was supposed to be a documentary film about a happy North Korean family ended up as a movie that exposed the government’s manipulation of how the country is portrayed in public.
Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky’s finished film “Under the Sun” took outtakes to provide a behind-the-scenes look on how a North Korean propaganda film is manipulated.Setting up a scene.
Initially, Mansky and North Korean officials agreed upon a script depicting a happy story of an 8-year-old Pyongyang girl named Ri Zin Mi. The story was to revolve around her preparation for a pageantry to celebrate the birthday of late North Korean President Kim Jong Il.
“It was completely fake,” producer Simone Baumann told CNN. “They would come to the scene, and would tell the people what they have to do, where they have to sit, how they have to sit, how they have to smile, they would tell them what they have to say.”
North Korean operatives were shown giving instructions, feeding lines, and staging each scene like they were the directors. They even controlled how subjects portray their emotion.
“One more time. Why is your applause so weak?” one official said to factory workers.
With the government’s complete control of the project, authorities were still unsatisfied and announced that the project was canceled.
Although North Korean authorities edited their footage, the crafty production team was able to smuggle video clips back to Russia and put together a compelling documentary on the North Korean propaganda machine at work.
“We decided we had to show that everything is staged,” said Baumann.
The camera constantly rolled and recorded while censors took over the directorial role from Vitaly Mansky. The team also used two memory cards in their cameras and kept the duplicate memory card of each shoot.
“The camerawoman is very brave. She put [the memory card] in her trousers when she went to the toilet,” said Baumann. “They gave one of them to the North Koreans, and the second one they took with them.”
The movie begins with a brief explanation of the documentary:
“The script of this film was assigned to us by the North Korean side. They also kindly provided us with a round-the-clock escort service, chose our filming locations, and looked over all the footage we shot, to make sure we did not make any mistakes in showing the life of a perfectly ordinary family in the best country in the world.”
North Korean officials have reportedly written to Russia to demand that the unauthorized film be blocked.
“Under the Sun” has so far been shown at film festivals in Russia and South Korea. The film will be released on a limited run in U.S. theaters beginning July 6 at the Film Forum in New York City and July 15 at Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles.