Light-based media

A visit to Kim Jong-il’s North Korean film studio

In this three-part documentary from 2010, VICE founder Shane Smith visits North Korea to try and penetrate the Korean Feature Film Studio, the state-run film production facility west of Pyongyang: a sprawling lot that at its height produced around 40 films a year.

VICE: North Korean Film Madness: You could say that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has two primary obsessions: maintaining nuclear weapons capability as a means of protecting his “hermit kingdom,” and thwarting pressure from outside forces like America and the rest of the industrialized world to open his country to modern things like electricity… and he’s obsessed with film. He loves movies. It’s rumored that he has one of the largest private film collections in the world. His favorite film is Gone with the Wind and his favorite actress is Elizabeth Taylor.

He’s a film collector and bona fide cinephile, but he’s much more. He’s everything really. He’s a director, a producer, a financier, a costume maker, set designer, screenwriter, cameraman, sound engineer… and he’s also a film theorist. His masterwork on aesthetics and practice is “On the Art of Cinema” (written and published in the early 1970s). In it he gives himself the humble title, “Genius of the Cinema.” He built an extensive film studio in Pyongyang and when he couldn’t find someone to make his film he did what any self-respecting eternal leader and great president would do… he kidnapped one.

Pyongyang Film Studio mural

Pyongyang Film Studio mural

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