This is the function, this is the power of the documentary, this is the power of film. This is a film with a real purpose, almost so overwhelmingly so that the word 'film' hardly seems appropriate; even it seems to fall short. This is not a retrospective piece, this is happening right now. The documentary is a cry for help, and a desperate one. Everyone, everywhere needs to see it.
But I will never understand why human rights groups and filmmakers can't let the story speak for itself. Is the epic dysfunction and misery in North Korea not captivating enough? Do we really need interpretative dance to emphasize why three generation policies are horrifying? These types of techniques feel emotionally manipulative and unnecessary.
The title of the film, Kimjongilia, comes from the name of a flower presented to the North Korean leader that, crazy as it may sound, symbolizes love, wisdom, justice, and peace. As outsiders here in the west, it's easy to condemn a man whose administration refuses to allow the media inside the country, maintains slave labor within concentration camps, executes deserters and critics of the country, and does it all while propaganda films and commercials convince North Korean citizens that their leader is a benevolent god in human form. As an audience, we can hear the stories about the man hung upside down and beaten for 14 hours and the woman who fled to China only to be sold as a sex slave by traffickers and think, "of course, whoever propagates this atmosphere is evil." The true horror about such tales though, is that North Koreans assume everything they're subjected to is business as usual. Refugees who escape to even the poorest sections of China or South Korea are shocked and amazed to see that everyone has food on the table every day, even if it's only something as meager as rice. If they stay in North Korea, they must abide by laws that command them to eat only twice a day in an effort to curb the agricultural and financial poverty caused after Kim Jong-il reportedly divvied up billions in NGO aid to the richest portion of the country.
Despite this and the fact that thousands of people have been executed and imprisoned within concentration camps - yeah, the Nazi kind - there are still grandiose parades and celebrations performed by hundreds and thousands of Kim Jong-il supporters who believe it is their duty to support the "President for Life."
For many of the terrorized citizens, fleeing to nearby countries such as China or South Korea may be their only hope of living without fear. Fleeing, however, is often times even more difficult and risky than staying put. Citizens who can't afford to bribe border guards risk death, imprisonment, and torture if they are caught trying to escape. Even if they cross the border and manage to avoid the traffickers willing to sell them back to North Korea or into sexual slavery, they still need to set up a new life from scratch in a foreign country with no money. If their treason is discovered, not only can the "perpetrator" be imprisoned, but so can their parents, their kids, and other family members. One interviewee was the only successful border crosser from a family of 10 children who tried while another had both of her sons executed for trying. Of course, once admitting these things to anyone, especially an American, they can never return to the country again. At least, not while Kim Jong-il is in power.
However, "while Kim Jong-il is in power" is the imperative phrase there. Many of the refugees admit they would return to the country they love in a heart beat if the dictator was removed from power. Despite all they've suffered through, they realize the atrocities they've faced are associated with a man and not with a country. Through this, they show remarkable perspectives and though some of them breakdown in tears literally pleading for change, they also realize that because they have the opportunity to tell their stories, the hope of change exists.