David D'Arcy
David D'Arcy on film

David D'Arcy's Outtakes

‘Propaganda’ at IDFA – Hollywood Babylon, from Pyongyang

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It’s Not a Joke — Well, We Don’t Think So — North Korea Views the Apocalypse

Propaganda at the  International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)

If you ever wondered what was going to bring the world down, it’s the decadence of the feeding frenzy of consumerism in the West, promoted by a relentless entertainment machine of mass deception, headquartered in – where else? – Hollywood.

This may sound like Newt Gingrich, the confessed serial-adulterer and convert to Roman Catholicism. But it’s the official word from North Korea. And it’s now a major motion picture. Even better than Clint Eastwood with his empty chair.

Kim Il-Sung - the Nation's Leading Movie Fan

Forget about the nuclear weapons aimed at Pyongyang.

Propaganda is the title of this feature-length cry of alarm from North Korea, which samples everything seductively evil about this global conspiracy in a style that blends marathon screeds by television preachers with the encyclopedic BBC doc panoramas of Adam Curtis. Sometimes it looks so much like Messiah, William Klein’s 1999 Koyaanisqatsi of all things disgusting, that you wonder whether Klein will be suing the North Korean filmmakers. Good luck. That said, Propaganda is worth watching – once, at least.

The epic from Pyongyang screens at IDFA in Amsterdam Friday, followed by a discussion between its narrator, a North Korean academic (whose facial features are clouded) and doc director/producer Peter Wintonick.

Just Follow the Instructions

Watching the spectacle of civilization’s self-immolation, I was struck by the breadth of imagery – every sin viewed in every way: decadence, sexual depravity, near-slavery, genocide, tyranny, and religious delirium. Holocaust denial is also part of the mix. The archival researchers must have been busy for years.

And where are they now? Can North Korea feel safe with so many of its citizens working on this film exposed to the irresistible plague of western entertainment, or is the team that made Propaganda locked safely in the country’s many prison camps, removed to a safe distance from an ever-susceptible population.

'I think I Agree with Everything That the Movie Said' -- In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean state media said Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 that the Supreme People’s Assembly will gather Sept. 25 in the capital, Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

There’s a voice-over English-language narration that translates the North Korean professor’s walk-through. Both the original Korean version of the film handed to Sabine Program and the English-language version that she translated are on youtube. Is this a new height in unintentional humor or did the KCIA (the South Korean spy agency) plant this in her hands? Be prepared to be surprised if you didn’t think the Pyongyang regime could be discredited even more than it has been.  If Propaganda proves anything, it is North Korea’s status as a perennial punch-line.

But wait a minute. Kim Il Sung was a huge film fan, as was Kim Jung Il, and presumably the reigning Leader, Kim Jong-Un. How were they able to resist the perilous gravitational pull that could have led to the destruction of North Korea? Propaganda will help you understand.

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