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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:21 GMT
North Korea's film industry boom
Man working on an animation still
Most of the animation is still done by hand
Caroline Gluck

In communist North Korea, cinema is seen as one of the most powerful propaganda tools for educating the masses.

However it is not box office success that decides which films are made and screened.

Instead, their key role is to provide on-screen role models for the population.

In recent years, the country's animation industry has flourished and is now beginning to attract international attention.

Now, increasing numbers of animation companies from western Europe and South East Asia are travelling to North Korea in the hope of doing business.

The country's latest production, made at North Korea's oldest film studio, portrays the revolutionary efforts of the country's youth to build a 10-lane highway at the height of the country's economic difficulties - known as The Arduous March.

The hardship still lingers. There is no electricity when I visit and the edit machine is powered by a generator.

Outside the studios, there are monuments to the country's revered leadership. Their influence looms large.

Spreading ideals

Cinema in North Korea is seen as an important tool in spreading revolutionary ideals.

North Korea leader - and film buff - Kim Jong Il
North Korean leader Kim Jong II has even written a book on films

State leader Kim Jong Il - who is big film fan himself - has even written a book on the subject, the Art of Cinema.

He is known to regularly visit the film studios to give on-the-spot guidance.

Kim Man Sok, head of international relations at the film studio, said cinema played an important educational role

"I can say film plays a vanguard role in educating the people in revolutionary ideas of the president and leading them to carry it out," he said.

"Some surrounding countries failed in the revolution... because they failed to give the people the idea of their leaders and tried to lead them to work and live as they intended by the leaders."

Across town, at the country's SEK animation studios, the pace is much different.

Animation boom

The place buzzes with activity as young artists work on their latest cartoons.

Through animation, we can tell the children that they should love their country

Animator Jong Chol Ho
One is a story called Corto Maltese, which has been commissioned by a French company, Les Films de la Perrine.

Thierry Riva, who is supervising the work, says they have more than 10 projects with SEK.

"We come to this company because they are very good and we are very happy about the business," he said.

The highly-skilled, low-cost workforce is the main factor attracting commercial foreign companies to communist North Korea, seemingly the unlikeliest of countries for animation.

I am told the studio makes a profit - although nobody can provide me with any figures.

Political messages

One cartoon, called "The Boy General", is aimed at the domestic market.

It features heroic exploits and battles against foreign aggressors.

Jong Chol Ho, from SEK Studio, admits that all cartoons for the country's youth carry social and political messages.

"Through animation, we can tell the children that they should love their country," he said.

"At the same time, they're having free education, free medical treatment completely free of charges - the benefit of the party and the country."

The cartoons may be part-fantasy, but in tightly-controlled North Korea, children are taught from an early age both what the state expects from them, and how to lead their lives.

See also:

05 Sep 01 | Film
West snubs North Korea movies
02 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Korean film bridges divide
03 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Record numbers' defect to S Korea
27 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea offers amnesty
26 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea condemns boat sinking
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