The 14th biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF), which took place September 14-24, has become a popular fixture among domestic and international audiences alike.
This years festival showcased 90 films from North Korea and more than 30 other countries including Russia, Mexico and Syria, all under the banner of “independence, peace and friendship.”
While foreign groups are unable to attend all of the viewings and venues, Koryo Tours, which supports the PIFF, were able to gain extensive access to screenings, sideline events and even some North Korean actors and performers.
NK News spoke to Koryo Tour’s Vicky Mohieddeen, who accompanied a tour group to this years PIFF, for an insight into this years event.
The PIFF has become a must-attend for Pyongyang’s film enthusiasts and this year’s events were seemingly no exception.
“Quite often when we were driving to and from the hotel we would see hordes of people that had just been to the cinema, so there was a huge reaction in terms of the audience members,” Mohieddeen said.
While many attended to see North Korean films featured in the lineup, Mohieddeen said that the biggest domestic reaction was to the foreign films on show.
“There were screenings for a couple of Indian films that we went to see at a cinema near the Yanggakdo hotel that has a two-thousand seater auditorium and one night it was packed to the point where people were standing and sitting in the aisles,” Mohieddeen said.
“They also showed a number of Korean films which were of less interest to the local viewers than the foreign films,” Mohieddeen added.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on the PIFF throughout its duration and also highlighted the most popular foreign films at the festival in an article on September 20.
Among the foreign films were productions from Burma, Australia and Spain, but films from Russia (11), Iran (8) and Germany (7) represented the biggest contingent.
North Korea is known for its lack of media freedoms and high levels of censorship and while the criteria applied to the selection of foreign films is unknown, many of this years PIFF selections surprised the foreign viewers attending.
“They assumed that anything shown in Pyongyang would be sanitized, and they are in terms of scenes of a sexual nature, but not violence,” Mohieddeen said, referring to a particular violent Indian film.
“One film also had a gay storyline running through it, which we have seen in previous festivals as well, and they didn’t seem too bothered by it.
Mohieddeen was also impressed by a film about the Korean War called The Other Side of the Mountain, the first North Korean-American co-production.
“Sometimes when you watch North Korea films it looks like techniques are still a little bit further behind the rest of the world in terms of filmmaking, but the war sequences to me looked like it could have been made anywhere,” Mohieddeen said.
There were also a series of awards given to films in a number of different categories including features, documentaries, short films and animations.
The jury awarding the prizes were made up of directors and individuals from Russia, Iran, China, France and North Korea.
MEETING THE STARS
The foreign tourists were allowed to attend film screenings at the Taedongmun Cinema, International Cinema House and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the Ponghwa Theatre.
A series of special events were also held on the sideline of the 2014 PIFF and represented a significant level of access for foreign tourists, to North Koreans within the domestic industry.
This included a special screening of the 1972 film The Flower Girl, which is said to have been written by North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung. The star and lead actress Hong Yong Hui was present at the screening to introduce the film.
A Chinese director was also on hand to give a speech and introduce a film about a traditional dancer who travels to Pyongyang to learn from the North Korean spectacle that is the mass games.
Tourists were also able to see the North Korean April 25th studios, which co-produced the film Comrade Kim Goes Flying with the Koryo group. The studios were only recently made accessible to outsiders.
The Koryo Tours group also took part in an event which featured a music composer who writes film scores for North Korean films as well as produces music for the Moranbong Band.
Perhaps the highlight however was a Q&A session with an actress who starred in the film Traffic Controller at the Crossroads, a film about Pyongyang’s female traffic cops.
“She talked about how she stayed with real traffic police women for a week in their quarters an how she almost caused a massive road accident as she went out and tried to do it in real life,” Mohieddeen said.
Featured Image: KCNA
Video: Koryo Tours
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 821 words of this article.