For people of my generation (I was born in 1990), the idea of a real West/East dichotomy of the world doesn't exist anymore. Now of course Western and Eastern culture, traditions, society and history differ hugely, but due to the interconnected nature of a modern and globalised world the 'Us and Them' narrative has largely ceased to exist.
However, there is arguably one country above all others that still is secluded to not only the Western world, but also the outside world in general. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) otherwise known as North Korea has been in existence since 1948 and from its first day to the present has been a place of mystery and intrigue. Winston Churchill once said, "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" and I have often wondered if he were still around today what would he have to say about North Korea?
On Monday evening I attended the opening of a North Korean art exhibition hosted at their London embassy. In attendance were actual North Korean artists from the Mansudae art studio in Pyongyang who were visiting the UK for the first time to show their work. The North Korean ambassador spoke to the crowd and praised the ability to share aspects of culture between our countries; he referenced a cultural exchange program signed between the UK and DPRK governments in July of 2013 and expressed his hope for more initiatives of this nature in the future.
It is this new willingness for cultural exchange between our countries that has afforded me the unique opportunity to create a documentary inside North Korea.
However, the film I plan to create differs from perhaps any undertaken to date. In recent years there has been a formulaic attitude to films about North Korea in which they revolve around highlighting the regime as a 'tyrannical pariah state'. What I am seeking to create is the first attempted apolitical film in perhaps the most politicized country in the world.
The focus of my film is to portray youth culture in North Korea and assess their supposed move from 'military first to sport first'. As a 24-year-old Englishman I wonder what the day to day life of a 24-year-old North Korean consists of, are there any aspects of our lives in which we could draw parallels? What I hope to achieve with this film is to focus on the humanist element of society whilst traversing the tricky path between apologism for the North Korean regime and the moral indignation of previous documentaries, resulting in solely an honest and open portrayal of human life.
I feel passionately that as an alternative to agenda based documentary there is just as much merit in looking to depict a place, person or country. The ability to show a window into a world and leave the interpretation of that footage to the audience at home is an idea that hasn't been championed in decades. Alan Whicker for me has always been my hero and it was he, who in the 1960s pioneered this type of honest depiction. I cite in particular Alan Whicker - Papa Doc in which he travelled to Haiti to experience life under the regime of Papa Doc Duvalier president for life.
That documentary certainly serves as inspiration, as the ability to immerse oneself in a completely alien environment, challenge and interact within the context of the film but overall create a non partisan depiction of life is an example I hope to emulate.