DPRK making a North Korea documentary North Korea Pioneer Media

Making a North Korea documentary – Young Pioneer Tours

Planning on making a North Korea documentary? Here’s our complete guide on the way to do exactly that!

1. Don’t attempt to be VICE — get artistic together with your North Korea documentary!

Within the mid-2000s, VICE revealed a collection of videos chronicling its founder Shane Smith’s two trips to the Democratic Individuals’s Republic of Korea, higher referred to as North Korea. The North Korea documentary accrued tens of millions of views and Smith was finally banned from returning to the country after officers little question saw his documentaries. The truth is, when VICE journalists returned to North Korea in 2013 with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters, they have been advised by their information: “I know who you are. I don’t like you, and I don’t like your company.”

Smith’s documentaries painted a image of an abysmal, failed, Stalinist state. During modifying, he chosen photographs of Pyongyang’s shabbiest condominium blocks to painting North Korea’s capital. On the bottom, his strategy to masking North Korea was to query or criticize almost every facet of what he noticed, right down to the food he was served on the Yanggakdo Lodge, which he described as “absolutely inedible food… like fried matter.”

His interactions together with his guides – to whom he referred as “guards” – have been strained, with Smith barely capable of conceal his skepticism at each website, museum, restaurant or place he visited, or at info he was advised. For example, Smith described the DPRK’s rationalization of its 1968 capture of the US spy ship USS Pueblo, after it intruded into DPRK territorial waters, as “indoctrination.”

Many imitations of VICE’s type adopted, and whether or not or not you agree with VICE and Smith’s evaluation of North Korea, it’s now truthful to say “been there, done that.” VICE’s documentaries remain online for viewers and, truthful reporting or not, the content of these documentaries shouldn’t preclude journalists and documentary filmmakers from on the lookout for different tales to inform in North Korea.

As former chief Kim Jong Il suggested in his ebook On The Art Of Cinema, filmmakers should “aim high in creation!” Young Pioneer Tours have facilitated all the things from documentaries on browsing in North Korea to music video shoots – for those who can assume outdoors of the box, North Korea can supply distinctive angles past the standard – and now-tired – exposé.

2. Do not movie the army

As with many other nations, photographs of army installations and checkpoints are usually prohibited. The exceptions to this rule are at the DMZ and army parades. This shouldn’t be cause for alarm, and you’ll not be left to discern when you’ll be able to and can’t film. As an example, your guides will let you understand when your car is approaching a army checkpoint and request that you simply put your digital camera down.

three. Do not film development websites

This rule is related to the earlier rule, as army personnel and troopers typically work at development sites.

four.Respect the management

Making a North Korea documentary: Justin Martell with his North Korean guide.

When filming statues and portraits of the nation’s leaders – specifically, current chief Kim Jong Un and former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il – don’t crop their pictures. Your photographs ought to be framed to point out the picture of the chief in its entirety. Whereas this may increasingly impression some stylized photographs that your director of images had in thoughts, it’s finally a simple rule to comply with and as a simple option to construct a constructive working relationship together with your guides.

For example, while filming in North Korea, this writer has made it a level to typically defer to guides at websites devoted to the leaders, such as the well-known Mansudae Grand Monument, and ask for enter on framing photographs. Small acts like this, while they could appear foolish to some, will go a great distance and create a relaxed shoot. Needless to say the North Korean government might later see your material and that your guides didn’t make the principles and should finally need to answer in your content do you have to determine to push the bounds of filming in North Korea.

Moreover, your guides will additional recognize efforts to be well-dressed when visiting websites dedicated to the leaders, and behave as you’d at a spiritual website out of the country: no humorous faces or handstands, refrain from placing your palms in your pockets and don’t smoke. North Korea might symbolize an excessive, however is just not alone on this respect. For example, Thailand has meted out harsh punishments to foreigners who defaced photographs of its revered king and within the Center East, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have strict lèse-majesté legal guidelines in place to protect their royal households from insults.

5. Restrictions have loosened

North Korea documentary: Justin Martell stands in front of Kaeson Cinema in North Korea.

Despite some backlash from unfavourable information tales and documentaries produced on North Korea, restrictions have regularly relaxed since North Korea began to permit more foreigners into the country for tourism and journalism functions. As an example, when this writer first visited North Korea in 2015, the Korean guides still strictly enforced the principles of no filming whereas on the tour bus – filming was only at accepted stops – even in Pyongyang.

Once I returned the following yr, I visited North Hamgyong province – North Korea’s northernmost province – which opened to Westerners solely lately and where filming and images restrictions have been still closely enforced. Nevertheless, one among my Korean guides remarked to me, “The other guides told me you take too many photos and film too much. I used to think in this manner, but after meeting many foreigners, I corrected this. Why should we be ashamed if you take a photo of a farmer plowing with an ox? We are developing! We should be proud!”

On that same trip, once we arrived in Pyongyang following our shoot within the Northeast, I was pleasantly stunned to study that filming guidelines had been relaxed and I was allowed to shoot freely from the bus, which included mounting my GoPro and filming your complete experience right down to the DMZ – shutting it off only when passing army checkpoints!

6. Don’t be afraid to make requests on your North Korea documentary

Making a North Korea documentary: Justin Martell overlooking a North Korean city.

When left to their own units, your Korean guides will possible stick with the standard routine and take you to principally pre-approved sites. Altering your itinerary or filming something not often seen could be troublesome, however it isn’t unimaginable and there is no hurt in any respect in asking politely. When you’ve got one thing specific in thoughts that you simply want to see, and make a request prematurely, entry can in many instances be arranged. This is the place establishing belief together with your Korean guides becomes worthwhile. Like individuals anyplace, if there’s a lack of trust and understanding, your guides may have little incentive to attempt to accommodate special requests. That is why following guidelines comparable to not cropping pictures of North Korea’s leaders is so necessary as it could result in entry to raised content material. It’s okay to push the bounds, however understand that a agency ‘no’ means no.

Bear in mind additionally that whereas almost every facet of North Korean life – right down to probably the most mundane issues just like the design of license plates – could also be fascinating to you and the viewers of your North Korea documentary, your Korean guides simply might not understand your fascination. This is not out of dangerous intent, but may simply because they could not understand your fascination with things they deem as routine or uninteresting.

As a personal example of each of these points, on my third journey to North Korea as a videographer, I turned the first American to travel by means of and film (almost) the complete Pyongyang Metro system. As you will notice in the video, while I was captivated by the unique designs and look of each station, our guide, having lived in Pyongyang her entire life, played a recreation on her cellphone while I filmed each small detail of the metro.

7. Comply with customs and think about your digital camera package deal

It was that until you had a journalist visa, vacationers have been solely allowed small point-and-shoot cameras, and laptops and cell phones weren’t allowed into the country. Fortunately, you can now deliver onerous drives and laptops into the country, although remember that customs might ask to take a look at your photographs both on the best way in and on the best way out. On the best way in, customs officials shall be trying to see what you’re bringing into the country, so delete these memes of Marshal Kim Jong Un and your torrented version of The Interview. Such materials, as well as spiritual materials akin to bibles and literature about North Korea not produced in North Korea, will merely not fly. In your means out, customs officers might ask to look by way of your footage and, in the event that they see any of army or cropped photographs of the leaders, might ask you to delete those pictures.

As filmmakers, we are lucky that know-how has superior to the purpose the place we will shoot incredibly top quality materials on small DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and GoPros. Moveable arduous drives for backing up your content are high-quality as nicely. As a tourist, it is best to face no points bringing these supplies into the nation. Nevertheless, lenses with a focal size of 200mm and bigger usually are not allowed, and could also be held until you exit the country.

If, nevertheless, you plan to deliver any cameras bigger than these listed above, and/or you intend to do any official journalism or documentary work outdoors of your personal video documenting your trip, you will have pre-approval. Young Pioneer Tours and its associate for film/TV, Pioneer Media, can advise on any particular issues related to gear and whether or not your filming may be facilitated underneath a tourist or journalist visa.

8. Individuals are individuals – make connections and have fun!

Making a North Korea documentary: Justin, in his North Korean suit, hobnobs with a Korean waitress

As a tourist or journalist eager to make a North Korea documentary, keep in mind that the individuals you encounter are identical to you, with a job to do and a household again house. Hold this in thoughts, put your greatest foot ahead, attempt to dismiss preconceptions and the Koreans you encounter will possible do the same, resulting in better materials on your journey video or North Korea documentary, and making it easier for individuals who come after you to movie within the DPRK.


Justin Martell is a filmmaker and writer dwelling in New York Metropolis. He has shot documentaries and promotional movies in North Korea and, in 2017, co-founded YPT’s associate, Pioneer Media, providing manufacturing providers throughout a broad variety of unique places from Asia to Japanese Europe. For more info on all of Pioneer Media’s filming locales and providers for filmmakers and journalists, visit mediapioneers.internet.


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