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HomeCulture‘Crazy’ film aims to educate and entertain

‘Crazy’ film aims to educate and entertain

After being gifted the North Korean director’s manual from a friend who had travelled to the country (Kim Jong Il – The Cinema and Directing), Anna decided to draw upon the techniques of Korean propagandist cinema to express concern for the proposed mining in Sydney. What followed was a journey to the oft-criticised country not to expose suffering or nuclear arms, but to study the techniques of propagandist film from the country’s most prolific directors and cinematographers.

“Aim High in Creation is a feature-length documentary, but at the end there’s a film within a film – a North Korean propaganda style film about coal seam gas,” she said. “It’s a very unique film. It combines two things you’ll never see in the same film, which is North Korean Propaganda Cinema and coal seam gas. It might sound crazy, but it works.”

It took Anna two years to gain access to the country, a process lengthened significantly due to her desire to film her journey documentary-style. “It took me two years, but I got there,” she said.

“It’s very, very hard to get a media visa into North Korea. They’re very defensive, because obviously the vast majority of western filmmakers and journalists that go there are going there to uncover evidence of starvation and gulags. Neither of those things fit with how the regime wants to present itself.”

Prior to the period of filming, Anna and her producer Lizzette Atkins were invited on an initial three-day trip to the country. “I had to sit down with them and do this thing, it’s a north Asian tradition, where if you’re going to enter into a business deal you have to get drunk together. So that’s what we did – and they decided that they could trust us.”

What followed was 14 days of unprecedented total access to the North Korean film industry where Anna not only observed the directors making their films, but she also managed to be cast in one. “There are not many evil Americans over there, in fact none, so they cast me as an evil American and I had to act in this kind of cameo role in a scene in a bowling alley.” Her acting success was, however, short lived: “They fired me because my acting was so bad. I was hired and fired as an actor in North Korea while I was making my own film. It was pretty funny.”

While Anna was filming and editing Aim High in Creation, Stop CSG Sydney (a community group in the inner west) successfully protested and stopped the production of the mine. “They deserve the credit for that – not me. In the film I set out to try and stop the mine, but the mine stopped before I even finished it.”

Despite this, Anna hopes her film will continue to help people understand the dangers of coal seam gas, as well as gain an insight into a part of the North Korean community that’s never before been on display. “I wanted to make people who perhaps don’t know much about coal seam gas aware of the issue and the problems around it, and I wanted to do it through a very entertaining and kind of side-ways way. The second thing I really wanted to do, and I’m really passionate about – I wanted to humanise and give a human face to the people behind the façade of propaganda North Korea. People who we never hear about on Fox or CNN. People who are managing to, in their fairly repressive country, lead relatively normal lives, and who like to go to the movies,” she said.

While a lot of the film’s reviews have been positive, a number of individuals have expressed concern that Anna is an “apologist” for the North Korean government. “The feedback’s been interesting. It certainly works for audiences – we had really great reviews on twitter and in media when we premiered the film at the International Melbourne Film Festival late last year. Apparently, because I went to North Korea and didn’t point my camera at the gulags, and instead pointed my camera at the film industry, is enough for the Daily Telegraph to print a one-page story about me being an apologist for the North Korean regime, which I’m not.”

The film has attracted interested from various film festivals overseas including the New York Asian Film Festival where it was screened at the Lincoln Centre, New York, on June 10.

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