In a totalitarian state like North Korea, virtually every aspect of life of virtually every citizen is rigidly controlled. Given the pariah nation’s social, political and economic status, many of its residents often go wanting, be it for material goods, opportunities or any of the other things that make life worth living. In fact, about the only ones who are able to rise above bare minimum standards are those who are willing to become advocates (i.e., propagandists) for the state, extolling its alleged virtues, regardless of how empty or vacuous its claims may be. Nevertheless, there are those who are willing to take that step, especially among the nation’s youth who seek to become members of the Korean Children’s Union, the subject of the compelling documentary “Under the Sun,” available on DVD and video on demand.
The film follows the life of eight-year-old schoolgirl Lee Zin-Mi in her efforts to be selected as a member of the Union. The documentary chronicles her regimented indoctrination into this coveted institution, including her school life, her involvement in numerous official ceremonies and her training aimed at developing her talents. The hope, from the state’s perspective, is that youngsters like Zin-Mi will become model, ever-smiling representatives of this glorious regime and its infinitely wise supreme leaders.
When the production was launched, with the blessings of the North Korean government, the intention was to create a modern-day propaganda film. With a script initially created by the North Koreans, the intent was to make a movie very much in the same mode as those shot during the Nazi and Stalinist Eras. Russian director Vitaly Mansky came on board to film the production under the tight supervision of state officials, who insisted on reviewing the dailies after the completion of shooting each day. Mansky agreed to these terms, and the North Koreans assumed that he would abide by them. Little did they know, however, that the director had other plans in mind.
Without the knowledge of state officials, Mansky kept filming between sanctioned takes, capturing images from the life of the real Zin-Mi, not just the one who was recruited to carry out the state’s wishes in front of the camera. With this clandestinely recorded footage, Mansky assembled a film that combined what the state wanted the world to see along with the effects that come from the demands the North Korean regime places on the lives of its citizenry, particularly that of an eight-year-old schoolgirl. Through this film, viewers thus get to witness what it means to live under the thumb of a totalitarian government, one that perpetually brainwashes and bullies its citizens into compliance and conformity, a campaign that exacts quite a heavy personal cost on those routinely subjected to it.
In telling its story, “Under the Sun” presents the heroic efforts of a pair of courageous individuals. Zin-Mi, for example, is shown as someone striving to retain her identity in the face of tremendous pressures applied by a dogmatic government to conform to the image of model patriot and zealous advocate of the North Korean socialist system. In the process, viewers witness her valiant, ongoing struggle to preserve her sense of self. However, as noble as these efforts are, the film also sympathetically shows the toll this existence takes on an emotionally fragile youngster seeking to hold things together in the face of the challenges relentlessly foisted upon her.
The film also represents a heroic accomplishment for director Vitaly Mansky, who took quite a chance in making the film he wanted to make. As the DVD’s Bonus Features show, at the end of filming each day, before presenting the dailies to state officials for review, Mansky would have to quickly and covertly copy what he shot and then erase the unofficial footage from the masters he presented to the North Koreans. The secret footage then had to be smuggled out of the country to prevent its seizure by government officials. Needless to say, when the finished product was released in 2015, primarily at film festivals, the North Koreans were incensed, demanding that the picture be pulled from circulation. And, when that demand failed, they then tried to lure Mansky back to North Korea to negotiate a “settlement” about the film’s availability, an invitation that the director graciously declined.
This cinematic effort thus represents an excellent example of what it means to face fears and live heroically, hallmark principles of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Through their respective efforts, Zin-Mi and Mansky demonstrate what it means to strive for the fulfillment of objectives that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom and prevailing dictates. Their efforts involve thinking outside the box, pushing the limits of manifestation. And, even if these objectives weren’t “consciously” on their minds in their actions, their outcomes reflect these principles nevertheless, providing us with considerable inspiration to do the same for ourselves in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
“Under the Sun” is a riveting, and at times heartbreaking, piece of cinema. It presents a chilling look at its subject matter, yet, by virtue of its very existence, it also provides a ray of hope, one that gets the word out to the world to see the truth for what it is. Despite the complaints of the North Koreans, the film went on to considerable acclaim at film festivals, earning numerous awards and nominations. In addition, the picture also captured a prestigious Independent Spirit Award nomination for best documentary.
After watching this film, it’s easy to let our hearts go out to the North Korean people in general, and to youngsters like Zin-Mi in particular, for what they must endure under their oppressive government. In that sense, we can only hope that the documentary’s impact will help to further the call for change in the face of unacceptable conditions. Interestingly, it’s also a cautionary tale for anyone who gives away his or her power to a state that will readily run over its citizenry to achieve the ends of its own agenda, a reminder to us all of what we need to preserve for ourselves lest we fall into a similar trap. It’s somewhat ironic that such a warning would come to us from a Russian filmmaker, but then, as someone who grew up under the Soviet system, who better to deliver a message like this than one who lived through such circumstances himself. Based on the experiences of Zin-Mi and the director, then, we should all consider ourselves warned.
Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
A lifelong movie fan and longtime student of metaphysics, Brent Marchant is the award-winning author of Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction, books that provide a reader-friendly look at how the practice of “conscious creation” (also known as “the law of attraction”) is illustrated through film. Brent maintains an ongoing blog about metaphysical cinema and other self-empowerment topics at http://brentmarchantsblog.blogspot.com. He is also Movie Correspondent for The Good Radio Network and Contributor to New Consciousness Review magazine. His additional writing credits include contributions to Library Journal, BeliefNet, VividLife magazine, New Age News and Master Heart Magazine. Hear Brent as movie review radio correspondent on Frankiesense & More and on New Consciousness Review’s Reviewers Roundtable. He’s a frequent guest on various Internet and broadcast radio shows, as well as a regular presenter at conscious creation conferences. Brent holds a B.A. in magazine journalism and history from Syracuse University. His web site is www.BrentMarchant.com.