Apart from his status as a charter member of the “Axis of Evil,” Kim Jong Il has remained enigmatic to most Westerners, who likely know as much about the North Korean dictator via Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police (2004) as they do from the evening news. This is by design, of course. Kim presides over one of the world’s most isolated nations, where he retains power with tactics of fear, misinformation, imprisonment and cultivated hero worship. N.C. Heikin’s documentary Kimjongilia gives long overdue voice to those who’ve suffered under the dictator’s reign. The film’s backbone is a series of interviews, in which about a dozen refugees tell their thrilling stories of escape from horrific conditions: Multiple generations of families are sent to prison camps for one person’s perceived crime, prisoners are systematically executed in front of their loved ones, and famine and sickness plague the countryside. Though the film maintains a furious tone, it is far from homogenous. Kimjongilia playfully mixes interviews with dance performances, North Korean propaganda films, reenacted sequences and animation. Heikin’s choice of interview subjects is equally varied—from impoverished peasants to former military officers and upper class artists. The result is a devastating indictment of one of the world’s worst dictators and a call for justice; as one interviewee so aptly puts it: “If the person who created such a place isn’t a criminal, I don’t know who is.” —SFIFF website, http://fest09.sffs.org/films/film_details.php?id=49
Comprised mostly of interview footage juxtaposed with interpretive dance and archival footage, Kimjongilia plays out more like a A&E Biography than a typical documentary. Nevertheless, some of the accounts are quite vivid and captivating, yet, I found the execution of the production to lean a bit on the side of the amateur.
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