Monday, 29 April 2013

A State of Mind

Fascinating programme on BBC4 (10pm, Thu 25th Apr 2013) recently entitled " A State of Mind".

Filmed in North Korea in 2003, the crew were given free access to the lives of two young gymnasts as they prepared for the "Mass Games", a periodic event in which thousands of male and female gymnasts perform highly organised routines that emphasizes group dynamics rather than individual prowess.

The thousands of gymnasts (mostly school children) selected to take part in the event practice daily for months before the annual event, which is held in a large sports stadium and comprises a performance that is repeated twice a day for some 40 days

As well as the performance on the floor of the stadium, one side of the stadium is given over to a display comprising thousands of cards held up to form an image. The cards are part of a flip-book, allowing the creation of beautiful very sophisticated displays.

Each "pixel" is a page in a flip-book, held up by a child

The film makers state that, while there were interpreters and minders present at all times, they did not prevent the crew from going where they wanted and filming as they wished.

The footage of the Mass Games is very impressive, with the performers giving a display that would not disgrace an Olympic opening ceremnony.

Beautiful choregraphy allows the gymnasts to form waves etc

But what really caught BFTF's attention was the time given to showing what the daily life of the gymnasts and their families was like. Given the current news portrayals of North Korea as a place of greyness, misery and hunger, BFTF was surprised (somewhat embarrasingly) to see that the families had food, furnishings in their flat and entertainment available to them.

That it not to say that North Korea was portrayed as some kind of idyll, the programme pointed out that each flat had a radio feed that could be turned down - but not off. And that the TV the family had could only receive one channel, for five hours a day. And the famine that the coutry had suffered had even been felt here in Pyongyang, with the mother of one of the gymnasts saying that, during this time, she had only been able to serve porridge for her daughters birthday party - half a bowl for everyone except the birthday girl (who got a whole bowl).

The propaganda of the government gives a narrative of the country as being one that is striving to survive and be self-sufficient against the overbearing and evil United States.

Against this, one elderly man who is interveiwed says that he had not been against the US until he saw the devastation that they wrought on the country during the Korean War...

Fascinating programme, not least for the huge chasm between its portrayal of North Korea and that which is shown on news media.

Respect to BBC4 for showing it.

Update 30th April
Another documentary on BBC (10.50pm 22nd April 2013) was entitled "Crossing the Line" and focussed on the story of James Dresnok, who was one of four US soldiers to defect to North Korea during the 1960's. Again, what struck BFTF most was the normality of life (heck, there were even bowling alleys!)

Image Sources
Wikipedia and Wikipedia

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