PYONGYANG DIARIES is director Solrun Hoaas' personal account of her encounter with the closed society of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
While the official line in North Korea fosters an almost religious cult of personality, with an emphasis on uniformity, nationalism, and a sense of self-reliance, Hoaas' observations, conversations, and diary entries belie underlying contradictions and inconsistencies.
The film begins with the death of revered leader Kim Il Sung. Hoaas records the events memorializing his life and his victory over the thirty-five year colonial rule by the Japanese, which ended in 1945. From there she looks at the role of the arts in easing the transition period from Kim Il Sung's government to that of his son Kim Jong Il, and in bolstering confidence during difficult times in general.
Still, as much as life improved after independence, poverty, hunger, and various social restrictions remain. And although a writing brush stands in between the hammer and the sickle in a state sponsored piece of sculpture, symbolizing the importance of artists and intellectuals, conversations with artists reveal the strict guidelines they must follow in order to show their work.
While Hoaas was editing the film, North Korea's worsening famine became world news. It is with a keen awareness of the potential crisis that she frames this portrait of a relatively unknown culture.
"An excellent audiovidual aid for teachers at nearly all grade levels. Present[s] voices and images of North Koreans - both in North Korea and in South Korea - that often remain absent from courses on East Asia."—Professor R. Richard Grinker, George Washington University, for the Journal of Asian Studies
1999 Film Festival, Association for Asian Studies
1998 FIPA Competition (Biarritz)
1998 Forum of New Cinema (Berlin)
1997 Hawaii International Film Festival
1997 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival
"Rare and unusual... The film stands virtually alone, at least among English-language documentaries, in its balanced, non-ideological and humane attempts to get 'inside' the DPRK and show some of the contradiction, complexity, and diversity of life in today's North Korea. A remarkable film simply for the fact of being made... makes a great contribution to awareness of this little-seen and poorly understood country. It provides a much needed counterbalance to the available print and film resources on Korea."—Professor Charles Armstrong, Columbia University, for the Asian Educational Media Service's 'News and Reviews'
"An interesting piece of work [and] a more accurate depiction of the people of North Korea. [The film] makes it possible... to get a glimpse of a country that previously was only imagined."—Korean Quarterly
"Straightforward and somber, a definite asset when documenting such a serious and sensitive history. Recommended for all libraries."—Educational Media Reviews Online