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Red flags but no red carpet as local movie wins North Korean film festival

Published 23/09/2016

A cameraman films scenes at Pyongyang International Film Festival (AP)
A cameraman films scenes at Pyongyang International Film Festival (AP)

This year's Pyongyang International Film Festival has concluded with top honours - perhaps unsurprisingly - going to a domestically produced feature about a young woman who selflessly devotes herself to the greater good.

The winner of the Best Torch Award, selected by a panel of international judges, was Story About My House, a drama about Ri Jong A, who wins the praise of leader Kim Jong Un for devoting herself to raising orphans after graduating from school.

The prizes were announced at a lavishly decorated hall in central Pyongyang, replete with glittery gowns, golden trophies, flags and colourful stage lighting - but no red carpets.

Like all state-sanctioned art in North Korea, the winning feature, released in September, has an explicitly political message. State media emphasised the heroine's "ennobling mental world" and traits that are "the precious fruition of the validity and vitality of the (ruling) party's idea and line of prioritising the youth".

The North also entered a documentary, Prosperous Pyongyang, and the animated Two Boys Who Found an Answer in the competition part of the festival.

Other films came from 21 countries including Germany, France, Syria and the Philippines.

The festival was a smaller affair than in previous years.

Henrik Nydqvist, a film-maker from Sweden who has attended the festival since 2004, said fewer films were presented - 60 from the 21 countries, compared with about 100 films previously.

He said that was probably due to the "difficult political situation" on the Korean peninsula. Tensions have been rising since the North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and another this month.

Mr Nydqvist noted that the Russian presence at the festival was more pronounced this year, with the head of the jury being Russian. Chinese participation was noticeably smaller.

Pyongyang has been trying to improve relations with Moscow, while ties with China - the North's most important trading partner and hitherto closest ally - have cooled.

Mr Nydqvist said 11 films were entered for competition in the festival, which awards prizes for feature films, documentaries and short films. Prizes were also awarded for direction, actor and actress - Paek Sol Mi, the star of the Story About My House, collected the actress award - cinematography and other divisions.

Last year's feature award winner was a German drama.

Mr Nydqvist said that although foreign participation was smaller, the festival provides an opportunity for local audiences to view foreign films they would otherwise not be able to see. Entries from abroad ranged from the Indian movie Garbbar Is Back to Chinese film The White Haired Witch Of The Lunar Kingdom.

"The films have been shown in cinemas around the city, and for the more popular films I have heard that there were more people coming than there were seats available for them," he said. "The audiences have been highly enthusiastic and for any film-maker that is very heartwarming."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's father Kim Jong Il,was a noted film buff and made a serious effort to build up North Korea's domestic film industry.

He got personally involved in the scripts and cinematography and put out a film similar to the classic Japanese sci-fi hit Godzilla. He even had a famous South Korean film director kidnapped so he could transform his country's movie industry.

The number of films produced appears to have dropped off dramatically since Kim Jong Il's death in late 2011.


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