I was able to catch HOT DOCS' first screening of the festival; DEAR PYONGYANG. Please be aware that it wasn't the festival's Opening Film THE RAILROAD ALL STARS about Guatemalan prostitutes on a soccer team but a film about a father's loyalty to North Korea while living in Japan.

A South Korean immigrates to Japan and dedicates his life to unifying a Communist Korea. In 1971, he sends his 3 teenaged sons to North Korea to be raised under the ideology of Kim Sung Il and his Marxist state doctrine. His daughter does not agree with his ideology but explores her father's zealousness with care and affection.

I laughed, I cried ... I would buy a t-shirt if they sold it.

Director Yonghi Yang spans her 10 year journey going back and forth from her birth home in Japan to the 'fatherland' in Pyongyang, North Korea to understand what is it about North Korea that makes her father so fiercely loyal to it.

After getting over the necessary texted background of how the Korean penisula became divided to become North Korea the Communist State and the South Korea, the Democratic state, DEAR PYONGYANG is more than just a look at a father-daughter relationship. Its underlying political tone is what brings the piece to its surprising conclusion and resolution of ideologies between Yonghi and her father.

With incredible access and footage of Pyongyang, one has to remind themselves that this is daily life in this surreal dystopia. What struck me is how well Yonghi crafted her piece to show, in rather long unedited moments, what life is like in North Korea without any exposition or narrative. As she said during her Q and A, she was angry that this was going on, but she couldn't talk about it for fear that her family would be harmed. But her family gave their approval stating that by making the film, it will keep them safe if it's seen everywhere.

So I suggest you check it out.

DEAR PYONGYANG - plays MONDAY, MAY 1st at the ROM Theatre.
Dir: Yonghi Yang in attendance.

Just as an aside, I ran into Yonghi at the Opening Night Party last night at the Design Exchange. This is her first time to our city and her very first time in Canada. Her thoughts as the plane came over Lake Ontario;

"There is a lake! ... ??? ... Are you sure this is a city?"

Apparently in a city near Tokyo, Japan, where she lives, is similar to the tall skyscrapers and concrete jungles of New York City. Toronto, she says has a nice balance of nature and city. She remarked how astounded and beautiful it was to see wide open skies amidst the buildings. "Tokyo and New York are places to get inspired ... but not to live."

Photo courtesy of Hot Docs

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