Meanwhile, in the DPRK... [North Korea - August 2011] / by a zugunruhe


This video covers the ten days I spent in North Korea in August of 2011. Most of the time was spent in Pyongyang with small excursions to Mt Paektu to the northeast as well as Kaesong and the DMZ to the south. Since there is no independent travel in the DPRK, I chose the tour company Koryo Tours based on their knowledge of the culture. This video was eventually used by Koryo for promotion and has amassed 25,000+ views over various platforms.


The Trip

When we first arrived in Pyongyang, we had to surrender our cell phones at customs.  The reason that was told to us was that they didn't allow tourists to carry anything with GPS capabilities. This is also why an advanced DSLR was taken from a man in our group. It wasn't until a year or two after I was there did the government allow tourists to carry phones in the country.

The airport resembled more of a bus or train station. I was terrified when I first arrived. Having been in South Korea the week before, I was scared to utter the name of Seoul in conversation. Before long we were all made to feel at ease and were cracking jokes that I thought the week before would get us arrested.

One of the interesting things about visiting the DPRK is picking up on the world view. The country keeps the mindset that the Korean peninsula is one country. One only separated by an American occupation. In the newspaper, South Korea is referred to as south Korea. On the my ticket to Arirang, a story of lovers torn apart and used to speak of reunification, Pyongyang is listed as a country in Korea.

I luckily managed to stay healthy throughout the trip as a few in our group fell ill enough to miss decent chunks of the tour. Kenan even contracting dysentery at some point. I'm still not sure how everyone started getting sick but it took us all off guard. 

One thing I will never forget was a joke on one of our last days. When in North Korea, the inescapable eyes of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il are everywhere. They manifest in varying forms: statues, posters, photographs displaying guidance. Most pervasive of all are the portraits. Nearly every every building will contain some form of the father and son as soon as your enter. If it's a place of study, they are stern portraits. Always facing forward, framed from the chest up, and with a very confrontational vibe. In places of leisure, these portraits tend to be more jolly, focus on the entire body giving a grand gesture, and set in very colorful and festive locales.

On one of the last days, while leaving the Korean War Museum (where we were not shown the room of American War Atrocities), an older man in our group decided to get wise with our lovely museum host. He sarcastically asked her if we were ever going to see a painting of the Kims, as he had come here for that expressed reason. Nearly everyone around him slowly backed off and busied themselves to distract from the awkwardness as our host confusingly inquired about his comment, stating that we had seen many of these portraits. Apparently we had become a little too comfortable at that point. Although he never particularly seemed to give too many fucks throughout the trip.

During our last night in the country, we karaoke'd with some of the new tourists just beginning their tours. This was the night when I sang Alan Jackson's Chattahoochee and attempted to crip-walk in hotel slippers during a musical interlude while in the basement of a hotel on an island in the middle of a river in Pyongyang.

Of course what was written above is a small fraction of what I experienced. If you want to hear more, send me an message in some fashion.



0:25 - The cut of the guards marching to the music

:10 - Girl rollerblading in the Kim Il-Sung Square

:20 - Drunk guy singing into a bottle in his underwear while an old lady looks on

1:40 - Percussion matching with the card flashing workers of the Mass Games


The Video

Again, this was a rough cut that I reedited for this site. Being able to use Truck from The Octopus Project was really exciting for me since it was a song I had on repeat often at the time. Since I thought of it so highly, I wanted to make sure that I did it justice. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out little things that I was unaware of until that point in order to use the song to the fullest. Like editing the marching soldiers to move back and forth to the song or syncing various parts of the incredible Mass Games into the ending.

Like I stated in the video description, in no way did I intend this to be comprehensive look inside of this country. I wanted to use this light-hearted, joyous song to purposefully work in juxtaposition to the common view of North Korea and create a video showing a side of this country that many people don't associate with the people there. This is why after introducing various beautiful parts of the country, most of the second half of the video concentrates on people, performance, and humorous sights.

Building towards the Mass Games was also important. As it is an incredible experience to see live and I wanted to convey that as much as possible with pans as well as stationary shots. At one point I counted roughly fifty people across and thirty people deep. Meaning that at that point there were 1,500 people dancing in near perfect synchronicity in that stadium. It's hard to truly capture something of that magnitude on film especially when the details at the individual level add so much to the experience. While I was re-editing these shots I would watch these clips in slow motion and marvel at the density of movement.

Also with the re-edit, I was able to insert a quick two-second black screen to catch the string scape at the end of the song. That little bit of character makes the whole video so much more to me.


The Music