The 20th annual Pyongyang International Film Festival reflects 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il's love of movies.
Pyongyang, North Korea
A guide imparts this glimpse into good times enjoyed by the heir before his father died in 1994, leaving the son the responsibility for near-total power that left little time for movies.
Nonetheless, the tradition lives on. The studio here churns out 20 movies a year, and this month the government held its 20th annual Pyongyang International Film Festival: nearly two week of domestic and foreign movies mostly with themes reflecting class differences or the victory of socialist or communist forces.
"General Kim Jong Il visited the film studios over 500 times," says Chae Han Yul, showing visitors up and down streets lined with sets reminiscent of ancient villages, a European town, a South Korean nightclub district, and a Japanese street in the days when Japan ruled Korea.
"He personally had directors make such excellent films," says Mr. Chae, a senior staff member.
Mr. Kim's career as a filmmaker reached a pinnacle in the 1970s and '80s, when he routinely dictated themes and topics, selected casts as well as directors, and, quite often, assumed the role of director. "He believed in film to motivate the people," says a guide. "They were an important mass medium."
It's not clear when Kim, said to have suffered a stroke and to be preoccupied with concerns ranging from the economy to his country's nuclear program, last visited the studios. But he's said to have a library of 15,000 to 20,000 films and over the years has viewed American and European films unavailable for North Koreans outside his own most privileged inner circle.
The opening film this year was a story of a family divided by poverty, made by a Chinese studio and set in the city of Dalian. The film, "A Tender Feeling," has a happy ending of a family reunited by love, but could be interpreted as a message of the suffering of millions of families separated by the Korean War and thousands more divided by escape to China in search of food and work.