Also showing: Uli Gaulke

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

Uli Gaulke's new documentary might be about film projectionists from four countries, but the limelight seems destined to fall on just one. The India, Burkina Faso and US chapters of the film pale in comparison to the story of a projectionist in North Korea, a country where everyone - apart from Kim Jong-il, the country's paramount leader-cum-filmmaker - is banned from watching foreign films.

By naming the film Comrades in Dreams (right), Gaulke probably anticipated the public reaction well before it premiered last year at South Korea's Pusan International Film Festival. He says he doesn't mind the attention being lavished on just one segment of his film, just as long as Comrades can present some 'other reflections and emotions in a way to understand North Korean people'.

'Every time it's the same images, and it's not the right way to understand what happened there,' he says.

Comrades is unlike most documentaries about what remains the world's most enigmatic country, even in the light of thawing relations between Pyongyang and Seoul. Gaulke says it's his intent to veer away from making political points in favour of focusing on North Koreans as human beings - hence his decision to turn his gaze away from effects of international embargos and the fate of US defectors and towards ordinary workers such as Han Yong-sil.

Still, Gaulke says Han's work is also symbolic of North Korea's national psyche - after years of suffering and isolation from the outside world, it's through films that the people project their hopes, even if they're official propaganda for the ideology of Juche (self-sustenance and self-defence).

'I think they make their own lives artificial on the screen, because it's a dream of living,' Gaulke says. 'There are some connections to real life, but they bring out their own dreams. The whole system is a dream - they dream and dream, but nothing happens.'

To find a real thing in North Korea, he says, 'is a little bit heavy. I wasn't so sure whether the shooting place was real. The only thing I was sure of is that Ms Han is real.'

Gaulke, who studied physics before switching to theatre and film studies, has made a slew of short films and documentaries since his debut in 1996 with Somewhere in Germany, his subjects ranging from German artists (Mr Kuehn and His Art) to a Cuban woman's relocation to her German husband's home town (Marry Me and Gladis). Yet North Korea stands apart.

'Sometimes a bicycle came and the cyclist fell down [with surprise] because after 50 years [of propaganda and isolation] we were monsters to them,' he says. 'When we were shooting we were very friendly - we shook hands, made greetings, and afterwards the farmers were surprised. That's the chance to make a change - a little change in the brain but something to make this society a little more open.'

Comrades in Dreams is screened as part of Max!, the Goethe-Institut's festival of German films, on Sat (9.45pm) and Oct 28 (4pm) at Broadway Cinematheque