Under The Sun released last year, and in terms of documentaries, is as unlikely of a film as you can get.
The director, Vitaly Mansky, agreed to produce a film through the North Korean government’s delegation that handles media. They met at a film festival in Russia the year before, and then in 2013, filming began in Pyongyang.
The film was even cast by government officials, where they placed a family in the midst of careers that didn’t exist, and used the real life trajectory of their daughter, Zin-Mi, age 9, as to be joining the Children’s Union, which is North Korea’s equivalent to Nazi Youth, sans knives and rifle practice.
What Mansky had to do to capture the true essence of North Korean life is fascinating. For one, he had to disguise the fact that his cameras were loaded with two memory cards. He also had to disguise the fact that his cameras were rolling, every second of exposure.
He also hired a Russian female who knew Korean, and taught her lighting, so that on set, she could hear what the government film directors were saying, so she would be able to forewarn the crew of what was coming next.
The film is nothing short of brilliant. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Understand however, the film is excellent, it is one of the saddest tales I’ve ever seen, and you’ll likely conclude the same.
Zin-Mi cries during a couple of the scenes, and no adult cares to comfort her. Instead they summarily tell her to stop crying, and suggest they continue dancing (Zin-Mi in one scene is learning traditional Korean dance, which is complicated to say the least), in another she should stop for the sake of the scene.
It’s also made clear that workers in any job, must stay at worker’s barracks that are next door to their factories, likely out of concerns of “efficiency,” and children are forced to stay at dorms next to their school.
It’s quite clear that the concept of family means nothing to North Korea and their version of Democracy. Newborns equal workers, which equals a balance sheet to the governments obligation. That is all.
Mansky has claimed he has even more footage, but has kept it under wraps, out of concern for Zin-Mi and her family. At one point, Zin-Mi describes sheer panic of being in the Children’s Union, which represents her official ascent into adulthood, according to the government. A government staffer is heard in the background saying to stop her.
The film says quite a lot about North Korea. And it’s clear in the film that what they are doing in the DPRK should never have been allowed. Despite the protections afforded to them by China and Russia, the entire world should have stepped in along time ago and done something about this.
At another point in the film, a government director is heard shouting a threat at the citizens for not cheering enough. Disgusting is a word that comes to mind.
I’m glad Mansky made this film. It shows communism for it is, when it’s completely boiled down to it’s rawest. I hope that Zin-Mi and her family find a way out.
I highly recommend this film, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years, and it’s surely the best of 2016.