On March 26th, the Gene Siskel Film Center held the screening and artist Q + A program of the South Korea–born and Cambridge-based artist Soon-Mi Yoo’s newest work Songs from the North.
Songs from the North is a one hour long experimental documentary that attempts to look at the current political and living situation of North Korea by presenting a collection of mostly personal travel footage over the course of four years and three visits, with the found media footage of North Korean Television, theater performance, and drama, and interviews she has with Yoo’s father who had a close relationship to the civil war between the North and South Korea.
Unlike many other films that are made about the North Korea’s history of oppression and censorship that turns to make a strong political point, Yoo’s film focused her lenses more on the ordinary life of the North Korean individuals she was allowed to have contact through her guided touring experience when she traveled in the country. “Hoping to understand how they could live in such a tough condition, I am interested in the human spirit and what may sustain their way of living.” Says Yoo during the Q + A session after the screening.
Handling editing and camera duties to the found media footage as her own, Yoo re-contextualized the cold nature of North Korea’s government-mandated image by getting intimate with its ramifications. Yoo digs deep into the paradoxes of North Korea through its own images of the former leader Kim Il-sung and the myth like emotions that the performers was able to put on when singing the wartime song “Nostalgia”. Songs from the North takes on a personal but yet hunting transcendent look at the propaganda in North Korea and function as a cry to the souls of the North Korean people’s condition.