SFIFF: 52 pick-up

SFIFF rides again -- and features a quietly terrifying North Korea doc
Kim Jong-Illin'


In early April, a long-range rocket blasted off from deepest, darkest North Korea; according to a Reuters.com news report, the communist country claimed that its satellite was "launched into orbit and [is now] circling the Earth transmitting revolutionary songs." Um, yeah. Most folks say the rocket failed — and that its real purpose was to test North Korea's dropping-warheads-on-our-enemies capabilities. Recent rumors of ill health aside, North Korea's Kim Jong-il appeared shortly after the incident to mark his re-election as the chairman of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's National Defense Commission.

As scary as it is to imagine the pompadored, isolationist "Great Leader" with his mitts on nukes, to focus on North Korea's threat to the outside world takes away from the atrocities committed within its borders, against its own citizens. As NC Heikin's quietly terrifying Kimjongilia reveals, the dictator's country is a cruel, brutal place. The doc features interviews with North Korean refugees whose tales of escape are as harrowing as their recollections of life back home — a place where simply listening to music from a capitalist country or dropping a newspaper with a photograph of Kim on the floor were infractions that could mean imprisonment for three generations of a single family. Starvation, torture, and constant fear factor into nearly every story; families are separated, and even those who escape struggle, such as a woman whose "freedom" in China translated into years of sex slavery. For these people, WMDs are the least of their concerns.

Peering beyond what's obvious is a theme at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival, with a slate that's particularly doc-heavy. For every gesture that's a little debatable (you can spin that Francis Ford Coppola directing award however you want, but Apocalypse Now came out in 1979, and 2007's Youth Without Youth sucked), there are many that deserves high praise: groundbreaking local documentarian Lourdes Portillo receiving the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, for example. Read on for the Guardian's coverage of this year's fest, and keep watching the skies.


May 3, 3:30 p.m.; May 6, 3:15 p.m., Sundance Kabuki

May 4, 6:30 p.m., PFA

THE 52ND SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs April 23–May 7. Main venues are the Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Clay, 2261 Fillmore, SF. Satellite venues are Premier Theater, Letterman Digital Arts Center, Bldg. B, One Letterman Drive, Presidio, SF; and Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF. Tickets (most shows $12.50; special programs vary) and additional information at www.sffs.org.

More: Reviews, interviews, and more SFIFF 52 coverage on the Pixel Vision blog as the festival unfolds.

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