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It’s Not Exactly TIFF But North Korea’s International Film Festival Opened Today
September 20, 2012
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If you're looking for star power and some of the finest films in the world, it's pretty tough to beat The Toronto International Film Festival.

But if you're fascinated and intrigued by a secretive society, North Korea's Film Festival is probably right up your alley.

Held every two years, the 13th Pyongyang International Film Festival (or PIFF for short?) opened today, giving North Koreans a rare chance to see a number of foreign films.

Well, except ones made in America. They're not allowed. But the festival does have films from Britain, Germany and France.

The festival's mantra is "For Independence, Peace and Friendship." In the past, the event has shown more than 100 films from more than 40 countries, most of which were edited by censors.

The first festival was held in 1987. Back then, according to movieline, it was known as the 'Pyongyang Film Festival of the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries.'

This year, there are two films that were shot in North Korea but edited overseas. One is a romantic comedy called 'Comrade Kim Goes Flying', which actually premiered at TIFF.

It's about a young woman, born into a coal mining family, who dreams of becoming a circus acrobat.

its-not-exactly-TIFF-but-the-north-korean-international-film-festival-opens-today-feature.jpg

It took nearly seven years to make, as the producers had to come up with a script that was acceptable for the North Korean government.

Plus, the two stars are acrobats by training, not actors. It was directed by a North Korean and shot with a local cast, then edited in Belgium.

British filmmaker Nicholas Bonner is one of the producers.He says "it's not what you expect from North Korea, and it's not something people have seen before."

Here's the trailer.

The other film shot in North Korea is called 'Meet in Pyongyang,' which was made with a Chinese studio.

The foreign films include a Sherlock Holmes movie and a romantic comedy called 'The Decoy Bride' from Britain; 'Flying Swords of Dragon Gate' - a kung fu film with Jet Li; and a French film 'Women on the 6th floor'; plus two love stories from Iran.

Presumably, neither Iranian film involves gay people because as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said "In Iran, we don't have this phenomenon."

But we digress.

The festival in North Korea is the only time people from other countries are allowed into theatres to watch movies with the locals.

The government has also set up a giant screen in front of the Pyongyang train station, where hundreds of people gather to watch.

Incidentally, the biggest North Korean film ever made is called Nation and Destiny: a 63-part epic which began in the 1990s. Filming is now under way on part 64.

Outside of the festival, most films in North Korea have a healthy dose of communist propaganda. Many of them are from the government-run Korean Film Studio.

According to a studio spokesperson, North Korean films are "for the purpose of ideological education."

"If you watch a lot of North Korean films, you'll find yourself crying a lot," he said. "If you don't cry, you're clearly a person without emotion."

People pay as much as $5 to go to the movies, which for many North Koreans, is a lot of money. For people who can't afford that, the government also runs films on state TV such as 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and the only western film its ever aired - 'Bend It Like Beckham.'

Others often come from China and Russia. As far as American films, they're rare, with one notable exception: Disney films. Walk into a North Korean DVD store and apparently, you'll find Disney movies.

its-not-exactly-TIFF-but-the-north-korean-international-film-festival-opens-today-feature4.jpg In fact, in July, there was a concert for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and many of the performers were dressed as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and other Disney characters.

And as you might know, Kim's father - the late Kim Jong Il - was a huge movie fan.

In 1973, he published a work called 'On the Art of the Cinema', writing that filmmaking was a way to help people "development into true communists."

Apparently, Kim owned more than 20,000 video tapes and DVDs, and was a big fan of 'Friday the 13th,' 'Rambo', 'Godzilla', Hong Kong action cinema, and any movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.

its-not-exactly-TIFF-but-the-north-korean-international-film-festival-opens-today-feature3.jpg He was also said to be obsessed with Elvis Presley, and had many of his movies. It's also been reported that he had a sizeable porn collection.

But films weren't his only pastime. Kim is said to have enjoyed basketball and was an avid golfer, who routinely shot three or four holes-in-one per round. He also referred to himself as an internet expert.

Perhaps, that's how he got all that porn.

Related stories on Strombo:

North Korea's Latest Hit Single: The Kim Jong-Un Theme Song

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