North Korea Gets Ready For Its 13th Pyongyang International Film Festival

Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, San Sebastian, Hong Kong, New York, Telluride - and Pyongyang? The end of Summer brought on the annual big tentpole festivals in Venice and Toronto as well as industry and celeb-heavy Telluride, ushering in the annual awards race and many of this year's fall releases. But don't expect North Korea's international film festival, which opens Thursday to factor too deeply into Oscar. In fact, Americans are apparently banned. Held every two years, the Pyongyang International Film Festival is a chance for residents of the so-called Hermit Kingdom to view foreign films on the big screen.

One romantic comedy, Comrade Kim Goes Flying actually had its world premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. The joint North Korean and European production took almost seven years to make. The romantic comedy centers on a coal miner who dreams of becoming an acrobat. North Korean filmmaker Kim Gwang Hun shot the film in the country, which is considered one of the world's most isolated, which is still considered in a "state of war" with its nearby democratic rival South Korea.

"It's not what you expect from North Korea, and it's not something people have seen before," British filmmaker Nicholas Bonner," told A.P. about the film, which took three years to get the script both "entertaining and palatable" to authorities for viewing in North Korea. "In the end, you're dealing with professionals. They do their job. You're in the film world, and we're all making a film."

The event's first edition took place in 1987 under the country's late founder - who holds the lofty title in the country as the "Eternal President" - Kim Il Sung. Then known as the Pyongyang Film Festival of the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries, it came back in 1990 and is now a biennial event. Though in 2008 the event showed 110 films from 46 countries, the titles are often censored and emphasize themes of family values, loyalty and the vices of money. Its mantra reads: "For Independence, Peace and Friendship" and the event hosts a Feature, Documentary and Short film competition.

Though tightly controlled, North Koreans are reportedly film-crazy. The late "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il was an avid film fan, reportedly owning a huge library of films in his private library, including American titles. When he was seven, he saw his first film, My Hometown, the first pic made by the government-run Korean Film Studio. It centers on a young man who returns to his village after it is liberated from Japan.

The late leader wrote On the Art of the Cinema in 1973, which cites filmmaking as a method to "aid the people's development into true communists," according to A.P.

Along with Comrade Kim Goes Flying, audiences in Pyongyang (which will also include some foreigners) will have the chance to see another North Korean production - made along with a Chinese studio - aptly titled, Meet in Pyongyang. Like their late leader, well-off North Koreans are film fans, paying as much as $5 at official exchange rates to see new releases from the Korean Film Studio as well as fare mostly from Russia and China.

Television stations, however, have offered some past popular features that made big box office returns in the West, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Bend It Like Beckham.

This year's edition of the Pyongyang International Film Festival takes place September 20 - 27.

[Sources: A.P., Wikipedia]



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