Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milwaukee Film Festival Day Ten 10/3/2009

Film #20 - Kimjongilia

Day 10 of the Milwaukee Film Festival ended up being my last day of the festival. After the screening of Kimjongilia, I just made a decision, after seeing the rest of the films I had lined up for the day, to call it quits at 20 movies, which I think is a respectable amount of films to watch over the course of 9 days.

I always come away from the film festival with ideas on what to do differently, and almost every year I think, "Take time off from work." And year after year, I don't do that, thinking I can handle it. I think that I'm going to have to employ that idea next year, and stick with it, because the nature of my day job (marketing and writing) has a pace that doesn't really lend itself to sharing time with an 11 day film festival. Though my notes helped me out this year, I would like to do more writing shortly after I screen a film, rather than struggling to get my thoughts together weeks later.

I miss a couple of the venues that used to have the film festival, namely the Times Cinema, but I don't have a lot of complaints about the Marcus North Shore theater. Obviously, parking wasn't a problem, and the theaters were large and (if you didn't sit in them for 10 hours) the chairs were comfortable. I did feel less of a connection with other film goers than I had in previous years at the Times Cinema; there was less conversation before and after the film, which is invaluable. However, all in all, the experience was a great one, and I was incredibly impressed with the caliber of films that were offered. With time and logistics thrown out the window, I could have seen at least another 25 films that looked good.

I look forward to covering the festival next year, which has already been announced for September 23 - October 3, 2010. That gives me nine months to prepare for another great experience.

N.C. Heikin
USA/South Korea/France - 2009 - Korean with English subtitles
Previous Screenings:
Sundance Film Festival 2009
San Francisco Film Festival 2009

Kimjongilia refers to a hybrid red begonia specially developed to bloom on North Korean Kim Jong Il's birthday; part of an attempt by the dictator to show that the people of North Korea really do love him and aren't oppressed. There are several defectors profiled in this documentary that tell a different story (and one that most of the world already knows) and expose the atrocities that they personally had to endure at Kim Jong Il's hands.

Most of the atrocities occur in prison work camps, where people are shipped for "injustices" like having a newspaper with the president's picture on it lying on the floor. North Koren law dictates that three generations of a family be purged, so if your grandmother is found guilty of an injustice, every member of the family through their grandchildren is also sent to the prison camp and subjected to torture, extreme hunger and, in some cases, death. First-hand interviews with people who escaped the camps, or were eventually released are harrowing and heart-breaking. Regardless of the time that had elapsed, the frustration and raw anger is palpable in these subjects. Kimjongilia also addresses the mistreatment of North Korean soldiers, who are subjected to malnutrition and starvation, as well as the plight of North Korean defectors; some risk being repatriated if they are caught in China, otherwise they have to make it through Mongolia to get to South Korea.

Though I was kind of lukewarm about the film as a whole, I couldn't help rolling my eyes, every time Hiekin would show scenes of interpretive dancers dramatically and oddly dancing to portray the horror we were being told. The witnesses, facts and footage did just fine and this inclusion was unnecessary, and frankly, really annoying. Anyone who is educated on current events isn't going to learn much of anything new by watching Kimjongilia, but it is certainly compelling to hear about the conditions and policies from people who have experienced them first-hand.

2 stars out of 5

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