Documentary offers glimpse behind North Korea curtain
January 24, 2015
Colin Offland remembers his first taste of North Korea.
He was in China for work when the opportunity to take a short trip with his 14-year-old son into North Korea arose. After four days behind the "iron curtain," he left with a new understanding of the country. His experience in many ways failed to line up with his preconceived notions and Western-media depictions of what North Korea is like.
"It really felt like we were visiting another world," he said in an e-mail interview with The Park Record. "Obviously you only learn a little about a place on short, controlled trips like that, but to experience it first-hand and to be able to dispel a lot of the feelings I thought I’d have about the country was very rewarding. In the following months, whenever I read or heard anything in the news about North Korea, my ears pricked up."
So when Offland woke up one morning and read about former Chicago Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman — known for his brash, outlandish behavior — planning to bring a team of former NBA players to the country for an exhibition game on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s birthday, one thought sprang into his mind: He had to make a documentary about it.
More than a year after the game, which garnered global attention and criticism from those upset at Rodman for forming a friendship with Jong-Un, Offland’s wish is complete. His documentary chronicling Rodman’s trip to North Korea for the game, titled "Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang," will premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival.
"This documentary’s aim was purely to follow Rodman on his journey and to get an insight into the country from the angle of a cultural sports exchange and to see if sport could cross boundaries that politics can’t," Offland said.
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Offland said filming in North Korea presented challenges. The country is suspicious of journalists and documentarians, and overcoming that was at times frustrating. In the end, though, he got the footage he needed without issue.
"Thankfully for me, it was agreed that I was documenting everything that Dennis did — wherever he went, I went," he said. "And along the way I built up trust with the ministry of sport and gained more and more access. Also, it’s important to say I was never out to do an expose on the country, I was simply documenting a historic, crazy story that turned out more fascinating that I could have imagined."
While the film doesn’t present the Jong-Un regime in a positive light, it is certainly not an indictment of it, Offland said. For that reason, he expects a measure of backlash to the film. But he hopes viewers will come to understand there are normal, friendly people in the country — even if it has warts that aren’t necessarily shown in the film.
"I can’t claim to have the real story of North Korea," he said, "but I’ve definitely got an honest one, no matter how much that might irritate certain parties."
"Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang" is being screened in the Slamdance Film Festival’s Documentary Features competition. It will be shown Sunday, Jan. 25, at 7:40 p.m. at the Ballroom at Treasure Mountain Inn and
Thursday, Jan. 29, at 4:15 p.m. at the Gallery at Treasure Mountain Inn.
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