Thursday, August 8, 2013

MIFF Session 13: Aim High in Creation: Shoot low in practice

A woman wants to campaign against the fracking proposed in her district but can find no co operation from the companies associated with it nor any backing from potential investors. Her solution: make an agitprop film guided by the book about it by Kim Jong Il. What are we in for here?

Director Anna Broinowsky travels to North Korea and speaks to directors and actors there to see what they can make of her project, comparing their advice to the Kim Jong Il's six rules and running a kind of training schedule for her own cast back in Australia. At the end of this we will see the resulting film.

There is no question of the gravity she assigns to the task of opposing the coal seam gas farms. Her motivation to make a propaganda film, on the other hand falls beneath the implementation of the rules and the interview material with the North Korean filmmakers she speaks to. We see a lot of reality tv style bootcamp workouts, mostly humourous and frequent quality-circle style cast and director meetings where a good deal of reasonable dissension is imcompletely dealt with.

Scenes with North Korean directors reveal them to be practical veterans who care little for the six rules unless they fall into their own practces. These are directors and actors who are in constant work and never short of projects. Their Australian counterparts face lives of struggle but this means that by numbers alone they are less well acquainted with their trade. Many scenes are telling but one in particular involving a silver haired director massaging a actor's performance so that it goes from flat to genuinely affecting. Poke all the fun we want at the jingoistic North Korean thinly veiled propaganda, it is made by people who approach it like artisans and yet find human stories amid the requisite patriotic musical numbers and anti-Western speeches. Their resumes would render our practitioners here a deep shade of avocado.

But it must be said that after initial goofy ridicule of these films shown in select excerpts, the filmmakers and their statements are treated with respect. This was a great relief to me as I didn't want to sit through a lot of cheap gags about those crazy Koreans.

It's where the two declared purposes of the film meet that the problems begin. While we are getting to know the North Korean "industrialists" we are also getting acquainted with the cast of the local film and watching their initial wariness become enthusiasm.

All well. And then we see the film, The Gardener. Everything from Kim's book and a lot of the advice gleaned from the Korean filmmakers is applied. The cast turn out well, having spent some good observable time with the material. And then it ends. And I sit there and wonder if there was any possible outlet imagined beyond its inclusion in the film that was meant to be about its production. The short film works at an afterschool tv level, which is not unexpected and perfectly functional but the jarringly Kim-inspired aspects only reveal a kind of self ridicule which colours everything after that. And that renders the opposition to coal seam gas operations where it began, a view on Google Earth, distant, inviolate, unchallenged, unbothered.

Am I supposed to feel stirred to action? I remember a series of decent interviews and amusing stunts but the campaign lies broken, a handful of gags that obscure something I've only just remembered: to motivate the actor playing the title role in the agitprop the director takes her to meet a family whose lives have been adversely affected by the fracking operations. It's real and emotive. It's at least ten times more consciousness raising about he issue then the rest of the film put together. So, why this?


  1. ummm...because it gives us an insight into north korea never ever seen before. because it makes us question the propaganda we also live under as westerners. because it is deeply unique and entertaining. because it works on a lot more levels than the literal. because it's fun and moving and everything most crap derivative hollywood films out there are not.

  2. Well I did indicate that I appreciated the North Korean material. In fact I would much rather have seen a full length docco on that with the tension between Kim's rules and practice examined. Your other points are valid except I'd disagree on the extent to which they are present in the film. My main point, though, is that the application of the North Korean practices falls short of the content with those filmmakers, resulting in a piece that is more fun than it is effective. The blend is what failed for me. The worst I've said about this film is that I wanted it to be stronger at what it did.

  3. My name is Louise Steer. I am logging in as Anonymous because it is easiest. I am a member of Stop CSG Sydney, which is a community organisation aiming to stop coal seam gas mining in Australia. We helped Anna Broinowski make this film by giving her access to our meetings and many hours of our time so she could get the shots she wanted. We believed what she told us - that she was making an anti coal seam gas mining documentary. At no time did she disclose to our group that she was combining it with North Korea propaganda. If she had, we would not have co-operated with her as this discredits our organisation and the wider protest movement, which has nothing at all to do with North Korea or communism. We are politically non aligned and the protesters come from all walks of life - the issue unites city and country in a way that no other cause has. Anna Broinowski is not a member of Stop CSG Sydney or any other anti CSG organisation. She did not participate in any of our protests in any way and made no contribution to the anti CSG movement. Stop CSG Sydney successfully stopped coal seam gas mining in St Peters, Sydney, through its own efforts of protest and lobbying Marrickville and City of Sydney Councils. This is a matter of public record. Our actions are not the result of some bizarre foreign ideology, but are motivated by concern for the protection of our environment and the maintenance of our food and water supplies, which are threatened by the expansion of coal seam gas mining. I find it interesting that the film maker who claimed to expose Norma Kamali in Forbidden Lies, has been less than truthful in the making of this film.

    1. Hi Louise, thanks for your comment. Thanks for id-ing yourself (more than the previous commenter did even if it was obvious that they were closely attached to the production).

      This is a moderated blog which means that due to abuses of it in the past I have prevented comments getting published until I pass them. I let your through as it provides a little extra context to the film. Having said that, I will not be hosting a ping pong match between you and anyone who wants to take you to task. If that happens I'll be deleting every comment I see on the subject. This is my film review blog, not a forum about fracking.

      Nevertheless, I do think I should answer some of your points in the film's defence. First, Broinowsky begins by saying she had attempted to make a straighforward documentary about CSG but could get no co operation from the companies associated with it. The North Korean angle is clearly a light hearted response to this and says more about her frustration than either side of the argument. She does not represent herself as being part of any organised opposition.

      My problem with the film is that it seems to establish the need for dissent but loses its way in addressing it. That said, the scenes where the Queensland family affected by fracking is told straight and is very moving. There doesn't appear to be any comment made about your group adopting Kim Jong Il's ideology. The film her crew makes appears to be unaligned with any particular protest group but itself.

      Please feel welcome to comment if what I've said in my review or my reply here is wrong in any way but please confine your comments to that. Once again, my blog is for film reviews, not politics.

      And again, thanks for your thoughts