Festival opens in movie-crazy North Korea

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Festival opens in movie-crazy North Korea

PYONGYANG - An international film festival opened yesterday in what may seem the unlikeliest of places: North Korea.

Held every two years, the Pyongyang International Film Festival offers North Koreans their only chance to see a wide array of films from Britain, Germany and elsewhere (but not America). And it’s the only time foreigners are allowed into North Korean theaters with the locals.

This year, festivalgoers will get a chance to see two feature films shot in North Korea but edited overseas: the romantic comedy “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,’’ a joint North Korean-European production and “Meet in Pyongyang,’’ made in conjunction with a Chinese studio.

Foreign offerings include a Sherlock Holmes film and the romantic comedy “The Decoy Bride’’ from Britain, the Jet Li kung fu film “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,’’ the French hit “Women on the 6th Floor’’ about Spanish emigres in Paris, and two love stories from Iran.

While it’s true that homegrown movies predictably tend toward communist propaganda with a healthy dose of tear-jerker, North Korea is a film-crazy country. Well-to-do residents pay as much as 500 North Korean won (about $5) to see new releases from the government-run Korean Film Studio, as well as Russian and Chinese imports.

U.S. films are rare, with one exception: Disney films can be found at North Korean DVD shops. A concert for leader Kim Jong-un in July featured performers dressed as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and other Disney characters.

Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, was a notorious film buff.

He was 7 when he saw his first film - “My Hometown’’ - the inaugural film made by the state-run film studio. The film, about a young man who returns to his village after Korea is liberated from Japan, made a lifelong impression on the future leader, according to Choe Hung-ryol, director of the studio’s external affairs department.

In 1973, Kim published a treatise called “On the Art of the Cinema,’’ in which he extolled filmmaking as a way to aid the people’s “development into true communists.’’ “Creative work is not a mere job, but an honorable revolutionary task,’’ he wrote.

In 1978, Kim “recruited’’ a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee. According to the late director’s memoirs, he was lured to Pyongyang to make propaganda films, but he and his wife slipped away from their bodyguards during a 1986 trip to Vienna.

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