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Film fest opens worlds to N. Korea

Fake South Korean shops and western movie posters appear on a set, made to look like a South Korean city, at a film studio in Pyongyang, North Korea. The Pyongyang International Film Festival gives North Koreans a rare chance to see foreign films.

Associated Press

Fake South Korean shops and western movie posters appear on a set, made to look like a South Korean city, at a film studio in Pyongyang, North Korea. The Pyongyang International Film Festival gives North Koreans a rare chance to see foreign films.

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Koreans got a rare chance to see foreign films — including Britain's Oscar-winning Atonement and China's Assembly — during the 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival held in the communist capital.

A total of 110 films from 46 nations, including Russia, France, Germany, Iran and Venezuela, were to be screened at the 10-day festival, which closed Friday.

North Korea is the most isolated country in the world, and its citizens receive virtually no unfiltered information from abroad. Most people can't make international phone calls and have no access to the Internet. TV and radio broadcasts are strictly controlled.

But the repertoire of movies at the festival has expanded in recent years to include films from the West. Previously, films were limited to those from countries allied with North Korea and nonaligned nations.

Among the films included this year were two high-profile films set with war as a backdrop. Assembly, by Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, is a gritty portrait of the Chinese military. The film, which opens on the bloody battleground of China's civil war in the late 1940s, has been a huge box office hit in mainland China.

British director Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement is a love story that begins on the manicured lawn of a 1930s English estate and moves to the front line in World War II France. The 2007 film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won one for its musical score.

Twenty-nine feature and documentary films were competing for the Pyongyang festival's Torch Prize. Chinese director Huang Jianxin was selected chairman of the five-member jury.

"The Pyongyang International Film Festival has contributed to international friendship and the development of the world film industry," Culture Minister Kang Nung Su said at the opening ceremony Sept. 17, according to North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is known to be a devoted movie buff who reportedly has a film library stocked with more than 20,000 movies, including all the James Bond films.

Kim, reportedly recuperating from a stroke, typically does not attend the opening ceremony. But posters in the lobby of the theater chronicled his longtime interest in filmmaking and collaboration with North Korea's film industry.

A tour guide at the studios where North Korean films are made extolled Kim's love of filmmaking and support for the industry. But he said Kim hadn't been to the set since 2006.

"He's been busy," he said.

The sprawling lot houses sets for shooting scenes in ancient China, modern-day Japan, postwar South Korea and Europe.

Dozens of North Korean tourists lined up to have their photo taken — in costume, with fake armor and swords — at an ancient Chinese temple. No one, however, was waiting to have a picture taken in the set used for shots of South Korea, decorated with posters of cowboys and pinups, brothels, shops and a pub.

A South Korean director says Kim's obsession with film was behind his alleged kidnapping in 1978.

Director Shin Sang-ok and his movie star wife Choi Eun-hee have described being seized in Hong Kong and spirited to Pyongyang to make movies for Kim before they fled in 1986 during a trip to Vienna. They made 20 films while in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang staged its first international film festival in 1987.

Film fest opens worlds to N. Korea 09/27/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 1:30pm]

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