Writer and Director Anna Broinowski
Anna Broinowski fell into filmmaking by accident – when she uncovered Japan’s queer, bikie and Otaku subcultures in cult hit, HELL BENTO!! She’s been working as a director/writer/producer ever since.
Her last film, FORBIDDEN LIE$, about hoax author Norma Khouri, was one of the top ten highest grossing Australian theatrical docs of all time.
Other films include HELEN’S WAR, ROMANCING THE CHAKRA and SEXING THE LABEL. They won some stuff, including 3 AFIs, the Rome Film Festival ‘Cult’ Prize, a Walkley Award, Best Doc at Al Jazeera, a NSW Premier’s Literary award, a Moscow Film Critics’ Award, Best Director at Films Des Femmes, and Best non-fiction Screenplay from the Writer’s Guild of America.
Before filmmaking, Anna was an actor, writer and rock violinist. She toured her bilingual play THE GAP to Japan, and wrote for Tokyo Journal, Cosmopolitan, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Black + White Magazine and others.
Anna was born in Tokyo and grew up in the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Burma and Iran. This has given her a passion for exploding western cliches about the East.
DRINKING THE KOOLAID, Anna’s book about her adventures in North Korea, will be published by Penguin in 2014.
A few years back, a friend gave me a discreet, leather-bound book she’d bought in Pyongyang: Kim Jong Il’s “The Cinema and Directing”. I was fascinated by the Dear Leader’s detailed (and often counter-intuitive) instructions on how to make the Perfect Propaganda Film – and by the conflict between his mission to destroy capitalism on screen, and his love of western cinema.
Kim Jong Il was passionate about movies – in particular Hollywood ones. As ‘Creative Commander’ of North Korea’s film industry from 1964 to 2011, he restyled himself as an Eastern Bloc Spielberg:- upgrading the dour propaganda films he hated by adapting western film genres and techniques. He gave ‘on-the-spot creative guidance’ to his filmmakers exactly 11,870 times. But he never took a direct credit.
Kim Jong Il may have been inspired by Hollywood, but he rejected it in public. As he says in his Manifesto: “In a capitalist society the director is shackled by the government policy of commercialising the cinema, so that he is a mere worker who obeys the filmmaking industrialists whether he likes it or not. On the other hand, in the socialist society the director is an independent artist who is responsible to the people. He is Creative Commander of everything – from the film itself to the ideological life of those who take part in it.”
It is this quote that first gave me the idea of making a film based on Kim Jong Il’s Manifesto. A convert to dramatised docs after making FORBIDDEN LIE$, and inspired by Lars Von Trier’s THE 5 OBSTRUCTIONS, along with ‘misfits-on-a-mission’ fiction films like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, I decided to make a film about a bunch of western actors who follow Kim Jong Il’s rules to produce a propaganda short. The result is AIM HIGH IN CREATION! – a drama-doc hybrid about ideology, the environment and the manipulative power of Cinema.
The meta-focus of AIM HIGH! is Propaganda – both good and bad, both highly sophisticated (as seen in the corporate West) and didactic (as seen in North Korea). The dramatic story is about one fanatical director and five brave actors who decide Kim Jong Il’s propaganda techniques are powerful enough to stop a Sydney gas mine. Will they or won’t they stop the mine? is the hook around which the film was originally structured. But once I went to North Korea and experienced the generosity, warmth, candour and passion with which Kim Jong Il’s top filmmakers embraced our cause, I realised that the main message in AIM HIGH! is that no matter where you live, and no matter what ideological framework you operate within, Filmmakers are Family.
The North Korean sequences in AIM HIGH! focus almost exclusively on North Korean filmmaking, and only touch obliquely on the Regime. I have done this deliberately, because I believe it is time a new story about North Korea was told: a story that explores, through the prism of cinema, the common humanity of the 23 million North Koreans who are not living in the nation’s well-documented Gulags.
The North Koreans who I discovered were resilient, funny, smart, tough and curiously naive: a people untainted by the materialism that has besieged the world since North Korea shut itself off from it in 1953. A people still locked in a more innocent mindset when it comes to entertainment: with movies, family picnics, story telling, funfairs and group singing being the top ways of having fun. And yes, it was news to me too that you can actually have fun in North Korea!
Stylistically, AIM HIGH! is multi-faceted. The ‘making-of’ scenes with the Australian actors and farmers are naturalistic. The segments about Kim Jong Il’s film legacy reflect his own propaganda docs, with didactic voice-over, bold graphics, formal interviews, and lush 35mm North Korean film archive. The third layer is our Kim Jong Il-style Propaganda drama, which is a homage to all that is wonderful and bizarre about North Korean cinema. Shot on the Arri Alexa by Geoffrey Simpson (SHINE), it features an orchestral song by Kim Jong Il’s favourite composer Pae Young Sam, an unashamedly melodramatic acting style, symbolic design, old-fashioned crash zooms, and a didactic plot in which ‘heroic’ workers battle the ‘capitalist swine’ of Needle Energy: a gas company hell bent on drilling in Sydney Park.
Thematically, AIM HIGH! smashes clichés about North Korea in unexpected ways, using humour to unite audiences regardless of their beliefs. Using my laptop as a default Skype device (North Koreans do not have access to outside phones or email), I play the North Korean filmmakers my Actors’ questions, and vice versa, to ignite a genuine creative collaboration. Despite their almost religious belief in the Dear Leader’s cinematic genius, Directors Ri Kwan Am and Pak Jong Ju, Actress Yun Su Gyong and DOP O Teh Young are all charming, candid, fascinating people who I (and I hope, the audience) cannot help but like.
Politically, I am fascinated by the contrast of planting Kim Jong Il’s socialist film rules in the middle of materialistic Sydney, at the same time that anti-corporate protests have erupted around the world to create the impression that capitalism is, as Kim Jong Il predicted, in its dying days. Of course, it isn’t: the Coal Seam Gas industry’s global proliferation, unfettered by environmental controls, is free-market capitalism at its venal best: and the perfect subject for our short. It pits “oppressors” against the “oppressed” – whom it is our solemn duty, as filmmakers in Kim Jong Il’s mould, “to convert to the revolutionary cause.”
Kim Jong Il is known as a Dictator in the West. But his unique contribution to cinema has been almost totally overlooked. De Palma has paid homage to Hitchcock, and Tarantino has paid homage to everyone from Pekinpah to John Woo. I believe it’s time we paid homage to Kim Jong Il the filmmaker. In fact, I’m surprised no-one has done it until now.
AIM HIGH! is a piece of entertainment, but it has also been made to move and inspire audiences – no matter what their political beliefs. In using the universal language of Cinema to break down the East/West divide, I passionately hope that AIM HIGH! creates a new understanding: between the hidden filmmakers of North Korea, and viewers around the world.