The Interview (out now in Australia) may have attracted a lot of short-lived attention at the end of last year, but there’s another film about North Korea out now on DVD that is worthy of a look. My review of Aim High in Creation.
Ok, it’s at least partially about the fabled closed-off country. Anna Broinowski, director of literary expose Forbidden Lies, has turned in another very entertaining documentary here, but it frequently is torn in half by itself. Broinowski, angered by plans for coal seam gas fracking in her neighbourhood, goes to North Korea to learn how to make a propaganda film that adheres to Kim Jung-Il’s manifesto, hoping to deter the mining company.
There’s enough good material here for two good films – while it would be the harder sell, this could be a compelling coal seam gas expose; and the nature of how she managed to visit North Korea and be allowed access as close as this (a detail that is glossed over) makes for an interesting enough topic for a film – and trying to pull them together here tenuously sells both short. It’s simply too long a bow to draw and too laboured a set up, to relate the two to one another, because they don’t have a natural connection in any way. Each topic is interesting without the other one – the consequences of coal seam gas mining are tragic without North Korea, and learning to make propaganda films is still entertaining without the coal seam gas angle.
Broinowski couldn’t have more perfect subjects here, after all, she’s allowed access into the inner workings into a cultural industry that exists within a deeply secluded and controlled place like North Korea, but she simply just doesn’t know what to do with them. Aim High in Creation is a surprisingly sympathetic, humanised portrait of North Korea that is entertaining off the back of one half of its subjects. However, often its most interesting, important, and potentially compelling elements feel like an afterthought, squandered by shifts between location and topic. The end message, which is about the bond between filmmakers not being limited by borders and culture, is too tenuous to fully connect. Still a worthy watch though, the sequences where Broinowski is teaching what she learnt in North Korea to the actors in her film are particularly entertaining.