This year the South Korean Organization for Unification sponsored the first ever North Korean Human Rights Film Festival in Seoul. Since coming to Korea the situation in North Korea is something that has been very intriguing to me. Ironically, many South Koreans are less informed of the situation in North Korea than a lot of us foreigners here are. When I found about the film festival I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Going to the film festival was a chance to educate myself more about the issue and support those in the fight toward the advancement of North Korean human rights and democracy.
I was able to catch four short films. Three of the films were fictional. The first was called “Children of Ryanggando.” The director of this film is a North Korean defector. You can read about his story here: http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2011/04/01/nk-portrait-from-gulag-to-toy-robot/ This story focused on the lives of children in North Korea during Christmas time. The main character is a young boy who finds a Santa Claus costume and a robot toy. He does everything he can to make Christmas day special for his friend on his death bed. He becomes a hero in his village. Even though the story was fiction, the living conditions and struggles that the children had to go through were depressing to watch and you could hear most people in the audience sniffling and holding back tears throughout the film.
The next two films were called “Inside” and “Final Report.” These films were short but meaningful. “Inside” was a 20 minute film about a father who was protecting his daughter from the North Korean border patrol while living in a make-shift tent. This film symbolized how North Koreans live everyday of their lives in constant fear while living like trapped animals surviving with whatever they can find. “Final Report” was about a North Korean who escapes to South Korea and gets revenge on the North Korean soldier (who also later escaped to the South) who killed his wife when she was trying to cross the border. The North Korean ends up mutilating the soldier’s body and burning his house down, but the South Korean justice system recognizes and sympathizes with his motive in the murder and lessens his sentence. This film shows that despite common belief, South Koreans can show sympathy toward North Koreans.
The last film I saw was a documentary called “Elephant in the Room.” This documentary took a look at foreigners in Korea and their involvement in the North Korean Human Rights movement. An elephant in the room is probably the best way to describe how the situation in North Korea is perceived by South Koreans. Less than 2 hours from Seoul a starving and suffering nation run by a brainwashing dictator exists, but ironically it is never talked about here in Korea. South Korean students are taught just about the equivalent of what American students know about North Korea and strangely enough they do not view Kim Jong Il as a dictator. The issue in North Korea is beyond anyone’s control, but I think it’s something Korean citizens need to be aware of. This documentary followed some of the foreigners and their quests to spread information about major problems in North Korea such as the concentration camps. The most heartbreaking part of this documentary was the segment that paralleled two demonstrations happening in the center of Seoul. On the same day as the North Korean Human Rights Program was campaigning, college students were also protesting for lowered tuition costs. The students became very angry when they found out another protest was going on and fought with the police officers. The film zoomed in on the North Korean demonstration with horrific photos of the North Korean people while the students right next to the demonstration were singing and cheering happily for their own pursuits. It’s sad to think that even though something so tragic is happening right next door, South Koreans are able to turn a blind eye on everything and move on with their lives. Since I am not Korean and have not lived in this divided nation my whole life, it’s hard for me to see it from their perspective. But I do think as an outsider looking in, it’s important to educate people of the real issues and raise awareness. It only takes South Koreans less than 2 hours to get to the northern border of South Korea, but it takes North Korean defectors up to ten years to make it from the North to the South. Why South Koreans show such indifference to people of their own race who go through so much in the pursuit of freedom is something I will never understand. The only crime that North Koreans have committed is simply being born in the wrong Korea. After watching these films I am so thankful for being born in America and having such amazing opportunities in my life.
If you want to learn more about North Korea and the Human Rights organization click on this link: