Archive for August, 2012

Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace; a place for children of the privileged elite to spend time after school practicing sports, art, folk dance and music – and of course, show it all off with military like precision and forced smiles to groups of visiting foreign friends and tourists.

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

Young Pioneers sing a martial song during a special Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday celebratory performance at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace. More pictures from this set linked below.

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Comrade Kim Goes Flying – Feature Film World Premiere

Comrade Kim Goes Flying, the first ever feature film done in collaboration between North Korean and Western producers, will have its world premiere screening this September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Synopsis– from the official site


Comrade Kim Yong Mi is a North Korean coal miner.  Her dream of becoming a trapeze artist is crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil who believes miners belong underground and not in the air.  A heartwarming story of trying to make the impossible possible.

Programmer’s Note – From the Toronto International Film Festival

A winning, life-affirming fable about a young coal miner’s pursuit of her dream to become an acrobat, Comrade Kim Goes Flying marks a milestone in film history: it is the first Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea.  But this charming film wears its heavy historical mantle with grace, weaving a lovely, light-hearted tale whose themes — overcoming adversity, and realizing the dream of a lifetime—upend our assumptions of a largely cloistered culture.

Kim Yong-mi (Han Jong-sim) works as a coal miner in a small village.  She dreams of one day joining the national circus and performing on the trapeze — despite the fact that she is deathly afraid of heights.  When she is promoted and sent to the capital, Pyongyang, she seizes the opportunity to make her dream come true.  Insinuating herself into the circus and struggling to overcome her acrophobia, Yong-mi meets Pak Jang-phil (Pak Chung-guk), the arrogant, good-looking star of the Pyongyang Trapeze Troupe.  At first, Jang-phil makes fun of the congenitally klutzy Yong-mi.  But eventually her beauty, endearing personality and unyielding determination win him over, and give him a valuable lesson in humility.

The team behind Comrade Kim Goes Flying — co-writer and co-director Nicholas Bonner, an Englishman based in Beijing who has long promoted cultural exchange with North Korea; his collaborator Kim Gwang-hun, a North Korean filmmaker; and Belgian filmmaker Anja Daelemans, who also served as co-producer — spent six years putting this unprecedented project together, overcoming numerous difficulties — not least the fact that their stars are actual circus acrobats who had never acted before.  But the result is a gorgeously filmed romantic comedy that transports us to a fantastic world seemingly out of time, with astonishing, candy-coloured images of the seldom-seen North Korea.

The Toronto International Film Festival’s schedule of screenings for Comrade Kim Goes Flying:

September 8 at 3:45 PM Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 3 – World Premiere
September 11 at 9:30 PM Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 5
September 16 at 3:45 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

It’s great news that this film has made it to the Toronto International Film Festival;  last spring producer Nick Bonner shared with me some of the problems Comrade Kim Goes Flying has had in finding its way to international audiences –paraphrasing from memory:

“Most international film festivals have a policy against screening films they consider to be state sponsored propaganda.  At first glance by those unfamiliar with the colors, music, and emotions presented in North Korean art, this film might give the impression that it’s some form of propaganda, but no North Korean watching Comrade Kim Goes Flying would ever mistake it for such, for them this will be regarded as a fantasy/romantic comedy.” 

Comrade Kim Goes Flying will be shown to audiences throughout the DPRK and will present to them provocative scenes the likes of which have never been seen in North Korean cinema.  I was given the honor to preview some of these clips, and while international viewers might easily overlook their importance, scenes depicting corruption in the state system and child obesity have been designed to shock domestic North Korean audiences.  Viewers will also be treated to what producer Nick Bonner describes as the “sexiest scene in North Korean cinema”, an upward shot of Comrade Kim in her leotard climbing a ladder to the trapeze – YAWZA YAWZA!

One last interesting aspect of the film I should mention is the delightful animation of the opening credits.  The animation during this sequence takes its influence from modern North Korean wood block prints, the style of which can be seen in the promotional picture at the top of this post, and also here in its common form.

Photos credit to the official Comrade Kim Goes Flying website.


Kids Being Kids!

Children at play and out enjoying a sunny spring Pyongyang morning at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Pyongyang Children

Pyongyang, North Korea Rollerblading

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Pyongyang Rollerblading

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Small Town Juche

No tool is too humble in the struggle for self reliance – from my own interpretation of Juche Idea.

Hamhung, DPRK, North Korea

Locals get by with what they have; transportation by hand cart in the small North Korean city of Hamhung – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Smiles

During preparations for my first trip to the DPRK I watched all of the online documentaries I could find, from dreary hit pieces on the DPRK Government to over sensationalized video travel guides, and common to them all was the depiction of a sad, colorless, and lifeless North Korea.  But by coming to the DPRK myself I experienced something different; I found Pyongyang to be a clean, bright, colorful, and orderly city, with a people that smile, laugh, and despite the language barrier, interact with foreigners with a shy curiosity.

Sharing my pictures of the DPRK and its people is what this blog is all about. I’m trying to present a different perspective compared to the impressions put out there by the main stream media.  I don’t deny that there are human rights violations, but there’s already plenty of material out there to explore on those issues. Instead I wish to pass on what I observed during my travels in the DPRK: that despite the hardships and pressures the North Korean people endure (whatever they may be), they remain a very human people, and just like us they love life and share the simple hopes and dreams common to all humanity.

The people of Pyongyang smile – below are pictures taken during the festivities and celebrations for 100th birthday of ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung - all photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

During the week of celebrations for the 100th birthday of ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung, mass parades and celebratory gatherings were quite common.  These events were not normally open to foreigners, but often we got caught stuck in traffic jams as tens of thousands of people clogged the roads on their way home.  During these times our guides were gracious enough to let us interact with the people, here young boys wave and smile on their walk home.

Pyongyang Street Scene

Young girls laugh and smile while walking home from school.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Boys from a brigade of Young Pioneers enjoy an ice cream snack at a local park.

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Young girls smile while taking a break from an afternoon of rollerblading.

USS Pueblo Guide

Sharing a laugh with our guide on the USS Pueblo.

Pyongyang Subway

A cheerful Pyongyang Metro ticket attendant.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

A festive spirit pervades the crowds at a mass gathering in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

A festive spirit pervades the crowds at a mass gathering in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square.


North Korean Children’s Nearly Unbelievable Performances

I am here to apologize for my lack attention to this blog as of late.  I have been super busy with my duties as Chief Mate during short oceanographic research expeditions, hectic in port ship maintenance periods, and now working a crazy cruise on a full ship with over 50 scientists and crew – with that many people aboard available satellite internet bandwidth is in low supply making even the most general web surfing an agonizing chore.

I have also been busy planning a fall trip to Iran, Armenia, and Lebanon, along with two and a half weeks in Tuscany, Sicily, and Malta with my family.

Since I have been too busy to get any serious writing done (relatively recent picture posts don’t count), please let me at least pass along a DPRK post by my friend Joshua Spodek:  North Korean Children’s Nearly Unbelievable Performances – insights on children’s performances at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.

Mangyongdae Children's Palace North Korea

A young lady dances at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace – this photo got me an honorable mention by the moderator of the Lonely Planet Flickr Photo Challenge.