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?