Daniel Gordon’s “Hillsborough” – 2016 Pyongyang Film Review

A veteran of North Korea documentaries such as “The Game of Their Lives,” “A State of Mind” and “Crossing the Line,” it comes as no surprise that British director Daniel Gordon has returned to the Pyongyang International Film Festival with his latest.  What may be more surprising given the ideological leanings of the local audience is that “Hillsborough” – set in Gordon’s hometown of Sheffield – tells the 27-year journey of how the people ultimately win justice over the establishment. (It should be noted that this documentary was an ESPN 30 for 30 film that was broadcast on the American sports channel in 2014.  The two-hour-plus version that showed in Pyongyang is an updated account following the ruling of the jury case in April.)

The tragic story of how 96 people died due to overcrowding at the 1989 F.A. Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest is told through the voices of the interviewees, whose candid opinions propel the timeline.  Dramatic reenactments and television footage fill in time gaps as the bereaved, police officers on duty at the time and journalists try to make sense many years later of how the finger of blame was pointed at Liverpool fans themselves for reportedly charging into Hillsborough Stadium.  They had long been tainted with the stereotypical explanation that drunkenness and hooliganism was to blame for the “accident,” when the visuals revealed security lapses contributing to a lack of crowd control, thus enabling thousands of spectators to stream through just a few turnstiles in a matter of minutes.  Once the gates at the pitch were finally opened to allow those at the front of the standing-only area to enter the field and alleviate the bottleneck, it was too late for those who had been fatally crushed by the swell of bodies.

As facts are uncovered, the excruciating truth behind the deaths is more devastating than imagined, revealing cover-ups and negligence by the very top of the law enforcement pecking order.  Haunting blurred images of the deceased and security footage of a couple of the interviewees/survivors will affect even those football fans intimately familiar with the story.

“Hillsborough” screened at the Taedongmun Cinema Hall No. 1 on Sep. 19 at the 2016 Pyongyang International Film Festival.