Anna Broinowski is upset about a brewing environmental catastrophe near her home in Sydney. As a filmmaker and mother would be expected to do, she contacts potential sources about an expose on the danger of fracking, only to find every interview opportunity fall by the wayside. Then she remembers a curious book given to her by a friend titled The Cinema and Directing. Its author: the late North Korean leader and cinema buff, Kim Jong-il. Surely, Broinowski must up the ante by drawing from Kim’s revolutionary advice to get her own message across to the people?
So begins a kooky premise for Broinowski in North Korea to learn from the very best filmmakers as she seeks advice, accepts criticism and overcomes language barriers in her delightful documentary, “Aim High in Creation!” After an initial awkward meeting, Broinowski discusses her goal of making a short film Australia that sheds light on the evils of coal seam gas. To do so, she wants guidance on how to follow the rules of Kim’s book verbatim. Her North Korean colleagues accept the challenge and make a number of suggestions that Broinowski takes to heart. Meanwhile, her Australian cast waves to their North Korean mentors from afar, only to endure a series of increasingly ridiculous exercises to cultivate the right mentality for their short film, titled “The Gardener.”
At times serious, at times humorous, Broinowski manages to balance the topics of environment, filmmaking and international relations without favoring one over the others. Of particular note are the scenes where she interacts with some of the renowned figures in the North Korean film industry, who gradually open up to Broinowski with the trademark dry, and hilariously blunt, sense of humor that this author also experienced when traveling in the country. (Disclosure: I went to North Korea with the same tour company, Koryo Tours, that Broinowski used, in the spring of 2012. Two of the tour guides in the film – one at the DMZ between the two Koreas and the other at the USS Pueblo – were also my own.)
But most surprising to Broinowski are the striking parallels between her own home country and one of the least-known on Earth, serving as a fitting denouement to a wacky two-year filming adventure.
“Aim High in Creation!” made its world premiere at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival. It screens Sun., Aug. 11, at the Greater Union at 7 p.m. For tickets, go to the MIFF website.
Video: The state of film in North Korea – 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine
Nick Bonner (“Comrade Kim Goes Flying”), Annette Hamilton (Professor, University of NSW), and Anna Broinowski (“Aim High in Creation!”) talk about the current state of film in North Korea. Dan Edwards (journalist) moderates.