Aim High in Creation!: A One-of-a-Kind Journey inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine
by Anna Broinowski
This is one of those books that has so much potential, but ends up falling unfortunately flat. Pretty much anything about North Korea is bound to be interesting simply because we know so little about what actually goes on there. Broinowski was given amazing access to the top filmmakers in DPRK, but didn't spend much time parsing apart what she learned and why she was given this access in the first place.
Here's the (somewhat convoluted) premise: Broinowski lives in Australia. There is a company that is coming into her neighborhood to extract coal seam gas. According to the author this is very bad, and in order to save her countryside and the people there from being harmed by the side effects of fracking, she decides to make a documentary. Somewhere along the way she decides to make it in the style of the North Korean "propaganda" films (aka all of their films) and to do that she wants to talk to those DPRK filmakers. Somehow she manages to get access, and the rest of the book consists of her surface level observations of her time there.
During her first trip she is convinced of her Western superiority. Luckily this doesn't last, and during the second, longer, trip she is more open minded. However, this doesn't lead to better understanding and observations. Her North Korean minders give plenty of evidence of the strict redaction and reality editing they are known for. She gives a few examples of times where she felt the ordinary citizens she saw were being genuine (I think the scene at the theme park was the most successful of the entire book), but for the most part the narrative is just her bumbling around and seeming to try to get in trouble by saying and doing the wrong things. There was a certain lack of cultural respect that I kept coming back to, which I think was the ultimate reason this book failed for me, as well as the film. It all seemed to be more about her as a filmmaker, than her subject.
Speaking of, this book is a companion piece to her documentary film by the same name, which I went and watched on Netflix when I was done with the book. I can't say that I liked it any better, and actually only made it halfway through. Personally, the slap-stick way it was made smacked of disrespect, though I think they were actually trying to mimick the film style in DPRK. Either way, neither of them were made for me, but I'm sure others would find enjoyment in them. This isn't badly written, I was just looking for something about the DPRK and their filmakers which this is not.
<i>Copy courtesy of Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.</i>