North Korea apparently exists in a permanent state of hysteria and crisis. International media focuses on its belligerence and, due to restrictions on journalists, almost all accounts of daily life come from defectors. Therefore, coverage of North Korea is sorely missing some essential voices: those of its residents.

The Pyongyang International Film Festival—a biennial spectacle taking place in September—is one of the rare occasions North Korea allows foreigners to peek inside and locals, outside. It is the only time foreigners can watch films with locals and locals can experience international cinema. All festival titles must promote communist values and patriotic sentiment. Cinema has been integral to the regime’s ideological indoctrination for decades. Kim Jong-un termed it an indispensable tool for educating the masses. As far back as the eighties, an average North Korean would visit the cinema around twenty times annually.

Journalist Laya Maheshwari attended the festival, where he viewed the latest North Korean releases to gauge what messages they contain and note how locals respond to them in comparison to some international titles. Through showcasing glimpses of activities in Pyongyang, he tackles some misperceptions outsiders may have of life in North Korea.

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Laya Maheshwari is an Indian journalist. He keenly follows debates in culture, censorship, propaganda, and international development. His writing has appeared in publications like The Los Angeles...

Humanizing the Hermit Kingdom: Leisure in North Korea

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