Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Look ’15: International Tourism

Sure, Frontline estimates one out of every one hundred North Koreans is a political prisoner and famines have been widespread, but if big clunky monuments are your thing, the DPRK is the place to be. Inconceivably, tourist do come to gawk at the enormous eye-sores dedicated to the Kim dynasty. Marie Voignier takes the tours, but she excises the commentary of her guides and minders (it is all just propaganda anyway) concentrating on the telling details found in the margins of the dysfunctional dystopia in International Tourism (clip here), which screens during the Museum of the Moving Image’s 2015 First Look.

Voignier’s approach is rather odd, but it can’t be called unfiltered. She certainly has an eye for telling juxtapositions, capturing the oppressive drabness of Pyongyang housing complexes, as well as the ostentatious kitsch of the omnipresent memorials. Clearly, this is not a healthy living environment. In fact, everything about North Korean architecture appears designed to make the individual feel insignificant and intimidated.

To her credit, Voignier also recognizes a dramatic moment when one happens, as when a tour guide in the Museum of American War Atrocities (or whatever it is) loses her cool when challenged by one of the visitors. Dissenting views are not something they are accustomed to dealing with over there. Apparently when in doubt, the guides fall back on regurgitating the dimensions and weights of the various granite monstrosities, so maybe tourists are better off with the outrageous lies and disinformation, which should at least keep them awake.

Voignier also follows a tour through a North Korean film studio, where a conspicuously stilted and didactic propaganda film is in the works. At this point, it is worth noting Voignier conveys more truth in a mere forty-eight minutes with only background ambient noise for a soundtrack than Anna Broinowski’s offensively clueless brown-nosing in Aim High in Creation. Sadly, we might just be getting a sneak peak of what Hollywood’s future tent-poles will look like as studios and exhibitors continue to cower at Kim Jing-un’s shadow.

On some level, the passivity of Voignier’s method is somewhat problematic. Still, she peaks into the gap between the false façade the DPRK state apparatus presents to the world and the crummy reality its serfs endure. Recommended on balance for those who understand how to watch with critical eyes, International Tourism screens with the remarkably insightful I for Iran this Saturday (1/17), as part of this year’s First Look at MoMI.