The Propaganda Game




Granted access to film in North Korea, Alvaro Longoria enters a labyrinth of propaganda.


Propaganda Game


Being Spanish may have helped the documentarian filmmaker Alvaro Longoria to get permission to film in what he himself describes as the most impenetrable country in the world, North Korea. That it is also known as the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) may or may not be considered ironical depending on your viewpoint. Outsiders with cameras are rarely allowed in, but there is one foreigner working for North Korea’s government, Alejandro Cao de Benós, and he was approached by Longoria which led to his visit being approved. It so happens that this man, a devoted Communist, himself comes from Spain.


Inevitably there were restrictions on what could be filmed and Longoria always had to be accompanied, but his photographers, Diego Dussuel and Rita Noriega, have done a good job and the chance to see North Korea on screen (its capital, Pyongyang, is strongly featured) gives novelty value to the movie. Beyond that, I am not so sure although we do hear from both officials and members of the public who live there as well as from outside historians, human rights activists and others. There’s also an attempt to touch on history by way of newsreel footage (this goes back to the Vietnam War before a credit declares ‘61 years later’). Furthermore, the concept whereby North Korea is encouraged to think of itself as a family community under its leader Kim Jong-un is clear enough (he is at once the father of his people and, in a country where patriotism replaces religion as being central to existence, the God figure too).


But, after some 98 minutes, Longoria himself has to conclude that the truth is elusive, however much barbarous repression is self-evident. If there is a seeming conflict on specific issues (talk of Christians being put down is challenged by the existence of at least one functioning Christian church, but it is suggested that this could be a front), so too the film has to acknowledge that America’s portrayal of North Korea in the news media may well be coloured by propaganda. We can make likely suppositions as to the realities of life in North Korea but, as Longoria states, we shall never know for sure. The limitations inherent in making this film could hardly be better put.    


MANSEL STIMPSON               


Featuring: Alvaro Longoria, Alejandro Cao de Benós, Michael Kirby, Barbara Demick. Andrei Lankov.


Dir, Pro and Written by Alvaro Longoria, Ph Diego Dussuel and Rita Noriega, Ed Alex Marquez and Victoria Lammers, Music Fernando Velázquez.

Memento Films/ a Morena Films production-Metrodome Distribution Ltd.
97mins. Spain/France. 2015. Rel: 26 February 2016. Cert. 15