A very rare opportunity to take a peek into North Korea…

Martin’s Grade: A-

I don’t like to politicize my reviews and try not to. I have found that in practically every land there are amazingly good films–regardless of the political situation. Take such films as Majid Majidi which managed to transcend nations and ideologies. So, if you are willing to be open-minded and look, you can find good everywhere, in my opinion. However, this is a difficult proposition in the case of North Korea. They don’t seem to be exporting their media and there simply is almost no opportunity to look into their culture to see what the nation is like.  There simply is almost nothing going in or out of this isolated nation and it’s been this way for a long time.  However, back about a decade ago, a few small glimpses occurred and A State of Mind is one of them.* Like it or not, for now this is all we seem to have from which we can learn about this nation and its people. And, because of that reason alone, I think it’s well worth seeing.

A State of Mind is a film which was made by a British production company. They were invited to the nation to follow several girls as they prepared for the ‘Mass Games.’ These games are ENORMOUS pageants in which many days of mass parades and performances are done to honor their leader. Some of these HUGE spectacles have required 80,000 people and millions of man-hours according to the film!! The devotion and energy of the participants is difficult to imagine in our Western cultures and I would never imagine folks I know joining in a similar massive celebration in which the individual is sublimated to the glory of the State. It’s just so very foreign–and this is what makes the film hard to stop watching. It is almost like looking onto an alien culture–and this is NOT meant as a criticism at all.

What I liked best is that the narrators didn’t over-narrate or opine about the nation. Instead, they mostly just showed the people and let them talk. Now I might have liked to have heard about the restrictions placed on the filmmakers–such as where they could and couldn’t visit and questions they could or could not ask. But, this is really not all that important–what IS important is that it gives you a glimpse of what is going on in North Korea. See it and learn.

By the way, the reason I didn’t score this one a bit higher is that I do think that perhaps TOO MUCH of the parading was shown. It became tiresome to watch the girls practicing again and again and again and again for months. However, even this was interesting in a way–imagine how this was for these thousands and thousands of kids who did this! Wow…

*Another documentary filmed in North Korea by Western filmmakers was National Geographic’s Inside North Korea–about a group of doctors who came to the country to perform free eye surgery for many blind North Koreans. It is fascinating–perhaps more so than A State of Mind as the now sighted folks were NOT shown thanking their doctors when their bandages were removed but immediately ran to a poster of their leader, Kim Il Sung and began crying hysterically–thanking HIM for the restoration of their sight.  It was truly eye-opening, in more ways than one.

by Martin Hafer