38 North: Documentary Film and North Korea by Andray Abrahamian

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Andray Abrahamian, freelance writer on Korea issues. He teaches in the Social Science College at the University of Ulsan in South Kore while working towards completing his doctoral dissertation on contemporary Orientalism and western images of North Korea. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Sussex, where he focused on Realist and Critical Theory approaches to East Asian relations. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

Documentary Film and North Korea By Andray Abrahamian

Foreign documentaries on North Korea suffer from a number of unique challenges, including issues of access, verifiability, and potemkinism. They also face the challenge of how to fairly represent “the other” to an audience that has no direct experience of the object of study. To what extent can the filmmaker allow audiences to make up their own minds, when so much mediation necessarily takes place? How can he ensure some balance between competing voices? How can the film be fair to its subject? These are challenges that face any documentary, but are present to a greater degree when the subject is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a radically different society with a singular media image that has been built up over the past six decades. Four of the most widely-viewed documentaries on North Korea illustrate the many failings and occasional successes in addressing (or avoiding) these issues: Welcome to North KoreaThe Vice Guide to North KoreaA State of Mind, and North Korea: A Day in the Life. …Read More

38 North: The Road to Rason by Andray Abrahamian

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Andray Abrahamian, a freelance writer on Korea issues. He teaches in the Social Science College at the University of Ulsan in South Kore while working towards completing his doctoral dissertation on contemporary Orientalism and western images of North Korea. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Sussex, where he focused on Realist and Critical Theory approaches to East Asian relations. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

The Road to Rason By Andray Abrahamian

A bus bumps and bruises its way along the unpaved road, carrying would-be investors to Rason’s First Rason International Trade Exhibition which ran from August 21-25, 2011, in Sonbong. The windows are open, until a crimson humvee barrels past, its powerful suspension dancing on the road, leaving behind a plume of beige dust. The bus windows snap shut, the still air quickly gets hot and more than one of the passengers wishes we were Chinese high-rollers, being whisked to the Emperor Casino and Hotel, which sits beautifully on Korea’s East Sea, overlooking Bipa Island and flanked by lush green mountains and crystal waters.
Pictured to the right (Google Earth via NKeconwatch.com): Rason geographic border (in red) and security perimeter fence (in yellow).

The passengers of the humvee—part of the casino’s fleet—will long be checked in and gambling their fortunes away by the time we complete our two and a half hour journey. However, it won’t always be this way. Rason’s 50km road to the border is finally being upgraded. Indeed, the 2.5 hour journey took 3.5 hours in June. Since then, the road has been widened, the first stage of the construction plan, allowing for traffic to flow both directions more easily and smaller passenger vehicles to overtake the more cumbersome truckers who ply the road.  …Read More

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