The 20th century has seen a significant number of variations on the ‘cinephile despot’ persona, from Hitler, to Stalin, to Tito, and to our own Ceausescu. But none of those put their thoughts on cinema in a volume, as North Korea’s Kim Jong-il did in his Cinema and Directing (1987). “One must aim high in creation”, reads the beginning of his second chapter, which gives the title of Anna Broinowski’s hybrid documentary comedy set partly in Australia and partly in North Korea.
When a company is allowed to start drilling for coal seam gas near a peaceful village in Australia, resident Anna Broinowski has to do something. That ‘something’ will be what she knows best: a film meant to convince the people to fight for their rights to a clean environment. And how could she ensure the maximum impact of her film? By taking a crash course in socialist realist propaganda from the most successful North Korean film-makers, who will teach her how to make a film in which the "bad local politicians" are defeated by the "heroic citizens." Her creative journey will lead to a number of revelations, including the ‘capitalist propaganda detox’ provided by a country with no adverts and billboards (but with plenty of political messages). The result is an absurdist, albeit meaningful, exercise in translating between two opposite political realities, which may not stop coal seam gas mining, but could leave some of us reflecting on the political and the aesthetic options open to the activist film-makers of the present.