If, like me, you’re fascinated by North Korea then you’ve just hit the jackpot. This week’s Stuff to Watch features hours of video exploring what is often referred to as the hermit kingdom, an isolated socialist state that follows Kim Il Sung’s “Juche” political ideology.
If you’re already excited then don’t forget to check out our other article about North Korea, which is full of must-see online resources for anyone who wants to learn more about life above the 38th parallel.
There’s a lot of video to get through, so let’s get started.
Dispatches: Undercover in the Secret State
Dispatches is an award-winning UK documentary series that appears on Channel 4. This particularly harrowing documentary is not for the squeamish, and features some disturbing video footage of what goes on inside government’s prison camps from the outset.
Undercover in the Secret State investigates the individuals attempting to smuggle video evidence out of North Korea. If you’re a fan of proper, investigative, no-holds-barred journalism then this film will thrill you to the very end.
North Korea – A Day In The Life
This was a rather ground-breaking documentary about North Korea, notably because it was one of the first to show a “real-life” Pyongyang family going about their day. Unfortunately, it’s exactly what the state want you to see and not at all representative of life for most of the population.
Of course it’s impossible to hide all of the cracks, even if the population are on their best behaviour. This film couldn’t be more different to the Dispatches investigation above, but it’s still must-see material.
Kimjongilia is a species of flower named after North Korea’s recently deceased leader and general, and while this film touches on the issue there’s a far more sinister focus – North Korean prison camps and the escapees who managed to get out.
China has a repatriation deal with North Korea, so for many life beyond North Korea doesn’t improve unless they manage to make it south, and even then the threat of kidnap by the secret service is an ever-present one.
North Korea Tourism Trip 2011
This isn’t quite a documentary, but a narrated series of videos and images taken by a visitor to the country in 2011. I particularly liked the attention to detail, (well executed) covert filming and human aspects documented.
Watching this film feels like sitting down in the author’s house and having him direct a presentation while talking about his trip. Except unlike any other “holiday snaps” session you may encounter, this one is very interesting.
VICE Guide to North Korea
I’m in two minds about this series of films. On the one hand VICE have produced a somewhat informative film about a little documented country, and went to quite some lengths to get in. On the other hand their disregard for the rules they were meant to be following and the increasing tension between them and their guides comes off as ignorant and disrespectful.
There are a few redeeming qualities, including a particularly touching encounter with a girl in a tea room who doesn’t seem quite sure how to act.
Kim Jong Il’s Foreign Adventure
Another VICE film, though this time the crew travel to Siberia in search of North Korean work camps. The country has built near-perfect replicas of North Korean towns and villages in remote parts of Russia where its citizens spend three years.
The steady diet of propaganda continues in the camp, and once the three year stint is up citizens are repatriated over the course of a month, ensuring they’ve caught up on any propaganda they might have missed while they’re away.
Life in North Korea
A slightly older yet still perfectly valid look at North Korea through a lens. This film follows the usual state-guided tour of the country’s finest attractions, yet at the same time raises important issues and reminds the viewer that all is not quite what it seems.
At times the film can seem very negative, but then there’s a good reason for this. The daily struggle, starvation, torture and arbitrary imprisonment that takes place cannot be forgotten, even if the state wants to portray a worker’s paradise.
What I Saw In North Korea & Why It Matters by Siegfried S. Hecker
This was a Google Tech Talk which found its way onto YouTube which goes into excruciating detail about North Korea’s nuclear facilities, and nuclear weapons in general. Presented by Siegfried S. Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited the country regularly in an unofficial capacity over the years.
Hecker’s trips to North Korea involved nuclear inspections and tours of the facilities. The presentation documents his findings, the country’s progress in manufacturing a nuclear weapon and his opinion on how the situation should be dealt with.
Six Days In North Korea
In 2010, at a time when tensions between North and South Korea are at their highest since the armistice was signed in 1953, former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson attempts to repair relations on the Korean peninsula.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer accompanied the party and was allowed to document much of the trip. Due to the political tensions at the time, the crew spent 6 days in fear of becoming stranded in the country as the prospect of war became more and more likely.
Discovery: North Korea Nuclear – An Inside View
This Discovery documentary focuses on the history of the Kim dynasty, Juche and life since the Korean war. It also goes into detail about political relations between the country and the US, Jimmy Carter’s important role in negotiations in the 90s and the Bush administration’s stubborn approach.
Bonus: North Korean Propaganda
Just for comparison, here are a few films that are sympathetic in nature. The first (below) is a North Korean produced documentary about the military and is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a country that immerses its citizens in propaganda.
The second film is slightly more alarming. Released by RT.com, it depicts the country as somewhat of a paradise.
Hopefully these films shine some light on the political, economic and humanitarian situation in North Korea. Despite Kim Jong-Il’s death the government continues its hardline approach. Evidence suggests change is in the air, but the fact remains that we still know relatively little about this isolated country.
Have you got any favorite North Korea documentaries or videos? What do you think about this list? Sound off in the comments!