For all its contradictions, problems and cheese, Aim High In Creation! is what you get when you start fighting gas with fire.
Australian Anna Broinowski is a violinist, film director and anti-coal-seam-gas activist. In a bid to stop a new mine near her Sydney home, she obtained permission to visit North Korea to learn about the hermit dictatorship’s late Dear Leader – Kim Jong Il – and his 1987 cinematic manifesto The Cinema and Directing.
What Broinowski must have promised in order to gain such access is anybody’s guess, but it quickly becomes apparent she has an iron determination and a silver tongue.
The director takes a tiny crew – minus a sound recordist who is replaced by a somewhat bemused local – to the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and is led on a carefully stage-managed tour of the capital, Pyongyang. Broinowski happily kowtows to the regime, and spends a great deal of time reinforcing her revolutionary credentials – she is a simple artist, trying to help her village to overthrow the evil bastard capitalists.
Let me be clear: The Vice Guide to North Korea this is not. Broinowski has no interest in exposing human rights abuses and suffering, or undermining the DPRK worldview that, well, it is the world. This is problematic – comfortably middle-class white woman exploits one of the world’s cruellest regimes for her own purposes. But, like I said, this film is fighting gas with fire.
The director begins with recordings of a crew of six Australian actors who have signed on to create her North Korean Anti-CSG Propaganda Film. Scenes in Korea where Broinowski explores Kim’s commandments of filmmaking and meets his favourite actors and directors are intercut with footage from Australia featuring the actors preparing for their roles in the propaganda film.
This preparatory work back in Australia is where the meat of the film lies. Broinowski juxtaposes the nervous, beady Australian mining representative and his attempts to undermine arguments against CSG with footage from farmers on the land who ignite water tainted with methane and tear up describing their kids’ myriad health issues. By the time the audience reaches the lacklustre propaganda film at the end, we realise it has functioned as our MacGuffin all along. I’ve sat through an affecting anti-CSG documentary without even realising it, because I was expecting something else.
There is a poisonous fallacy within our current social commentary that there are two fully equal sides to every story. Activism today is expected to fall nicely into a dichotomy of speech controlled by the side with more resources – slick, corporate greenwash is expected to be met with facts or data that the companies wilfully obscure. Any attempt to do otherwise is considered “uncivil” or “undemocratic”.
So while I think using North Korea as a gimmick is probably wrong, it’s also absolute genius, and I respect Broinowski for smashing through the “nice activist” trope to fight propaganda with propaganda. Rather than sticking to the acceptable frame of conversation, she looks to the last vestiges of communism to undermine a rabidly hyper-capitalist corporate class that has nested comfortably on top of our social structure.
In this way, her vision is clear: this is an anti-CSG film, not a film about North Korea. Anybody expecting the veil to be lifted on what we know are stage-managed scenes in the Korea capital will be sorely disappointed. But if you look beyond that, there are bigger narratives coded into this film that make it fascinating.
Given human rights abuses perpetrated by mining companies worldwide and their level of control in our political and social sphere, is it not okay to use one dictatorship to undermine another?
Aim High in Creation is currently screening at Adelaide’s Mercury Cinema.
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