“hardcore” PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

"Koryowood", Film City – walking behind our two guides to the auditorium

It is impossible for me...

At the end of our tour through  – let’s call it KORYOWOOD (Film City), a favorite child of KIM JONG IL – we got a chance to watch a North Korean production at the auditorium. The two of us – with our two “permanent” guides sitting behind us – waited in the complete darkness while the technicians tried to start the film. It took them several attempts to get the screening going. accept the promotion

In the dark I got my camera ready without being looked over my shoulders.

The love story turned out to be a pitiless propaganda piece with the purpose to drill emotions to follow the party line. It carried a wicked message for all those whose emotions threatened to override party discipline.

Indoctrination is everywhere. Sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it is painfully obvious but it can also be quite subtle. French people we met complained about constant propaganda by their guides. They wouldn’t miss an opportunity, they said, to shower them with anti-Western, specially anti-American and anti-Japanese warmongering German tourists said the same.

In this respect, our experience was different. Our guides had their hands full with saying NO to us and our appetite to make contact with North Koreans from all walks of life! They often were exasperated and didn’t know how to control our curiosity. They didn’t seem well prepared to deal with people who had no political agenda but travelled, eyes and ears open, looking for genuine life situations.

My repeated referral to China about missing travel restrictions helped to put them on the defensive too. China was the only point of reference that was relevant for them. When I told Jong Hui and Min Bing Gee, our two “permanent guides”, that in China I could could enter any supermarket and pay in local currency they were very surprised.

Let’s call them HILLARY and Adriano…

HILLARY and Adriano came to the Film Festival as Director of a film and Partner of a Filmmaker. As they arrived independently, not related with each other, they hardly talked to anybody. I thought they may have a jet lag or suffer from some other inconveniences, flying long hours and arriving in the best of early morning sleep, joining “Das Fähnlein der Aufrechten“ at the breakfast table. But I was proven wrong. As they were attentive readers of  the international Press such as newspapers and carefully following the TV News they assumed that behind every letter of A-h-m-a-d-i-n-e-d-j-a-d were hiding two spies. They arrived in a preventive, paranoid mood, expecting a worst case scenario which also was supported by their own friends at home.

And yes, I had experienced the same when I told my friends and colleagues that I would go to “11th MOQAVEMAT International Film Festival“ in Tehran with a film of mine.

11th MOQAVEMAT International Film Festival

Some asked me if I had a bodyguard with me, others warned me to keep my my mouth shut. One wrote in an email: Hallo Jürg, wem glaubst du hilfst du damit ausser deinem Ego? Others were afraid, I would land in prison. A friend of mine even mentioned the case of two persons who had participated in a similar event a year ago in Iran. They obviously had felt being used by the Iranian media and upon return were criticized and stripped of their self respect in an article of a well known swiss newspaper relating to their participation. He warned me indirectly and feared I could loose “Kopf und Kragen“. Others felt pity, “Does Jürg really have to do that?“

Of course I had to go to Iran. What was my greater worry: Israeli bombs falling on the Nuclear Reactors in Esfahan,

Iran's Nuclear Plant at Esfahan

Regisseur Panahi in Iran zu sechs Jahren Haft  verurteilt

Regisseur Panahi in Iran zu sechs Jahren Haft verurteilt

Natanz and Qom or me getting otherwise in trouble? It was none of both. What really cost me the first five minutes of my sleep at night was the following: What was I going to do, in case my film HUMUS for HAMAS got a prize? What was I going to do with that money? Give it to charity? Refuse the prize?

Hand it over to the Iranian Directors whose projects were cut the other day and had goverment funding refused or got imprisoned like Jafar Panahi or Mohammed Rasulof?

Iranische Filmemacher zu Haft verurteilt

Or get drunk? Not so easy in Iran, you have to have very good friends to get liquor. Going on a shopping spree? Well, 95% of all the goods in the shops in Tehran are “Made in China“ – I had just returned from that great land and had bought more than I could carry home… .

Der langen Rede kurzer Sinn: I was the only one of the foreign filmmakers who did not get a prize! And now I go to bed and enjoy the first five minutes of my sleep again!

Als Bettgeschichten lese ich noch: Headlines IRAN NEWS September 25, 2010

  • Enemy has become weaker than before
  • Russia scrapping S-300 Missiles to Iran
  • Thyssen Krupp halting its Iran Business
  • Turkey: Iran-Sanctions Ban on Bank Transactions is “MISTAKE“
  • Iran hails Anti-Israel UN Resolution
  • Hamas detains “MANY“ suspected Israeli Spies in Gaza
  • Ahmadinejad calls for Scrapping of Veto Power in Security Council
  • Nobody can harm Tehran – Havanna Ties

From Dubai to Tehran

From Dubai to Tehran two end-of-teenage girls sat beside me from head to shoes in black. “End of vacation?” I asked one of them. “We are just back from Malaysia with my uncle and my other cousin. Oh, so go back to school? We finished two weeks ago. Where will you study? That’s why we were in Kuala Lumpur, we looked for a house. A whole house? Yes, my uncle will come with us and my mom too. This is my mom!” Her mother looked even younger than she, so I asked her age. “My mother is 34 and I am 19. We will all go to Malaysia, 7 all together. Malaysia is cheaper than Tehran, University has little tuition, we don’t need visa. We came back for two weeks for a big goodbye party, then we enroll for a 3 year course at the State University in Kuala Lumpur. And your father? He is in Parliament and my brother has a beauty business, they must stay. You speak Arab? No! I don’t like Arabs. I had Arab in school but I don’t speak it, I like English.” Then she continued: “What do you think of Iran? Do you really want to know? Yes very much so! I think there are three main contestants for power, Khamenei and the Mullahs, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his confidant Esfandiar Rahim Mashai and the Green Movement, but the first two are clearly more at each others neck.” “Yes”, she said and then she said: “No,  I have no interest in politics.”

Arriving in Tehran at 04:00am, long lines at the passport control, waiting for my bag till 05:00am and my transfer, checking into five-star Espinas Hotel at 05:45. At 06:15 I’m in my room to check my latest email and opened my site

I called her THE SPHINX

I met my interpreter at 09:00 in the lobby. “I cannot shake hands… my name is Afareen”, she warned me, I shouldn’t be forthcoming. But that’s just what I wanted. So I asked Afareen if she could accept that I shake hands with the Russian Filmmaker standing beside me, and she would then shake hands with her. A big smile was all over her face, yes she said, that would conform. And if I wanted to give her three french welcome kisses, could she accept that I kiss the Russian Filmmaker in the elevator (for her) and she

Masja from the Wolga with THE SPHINX from Iran

would then kiss her in the lobby (for me). “No”, she said and pointed to the elevator, “It’s transparent, it’s made of glas, everybody could see you. Use the elevator for the staff.“

Outside it was 30°, I wore my sleeveless Adidas T-shirt. “Oh,by the way“, she continued,“when we leave the Hotel, please change, put on a T-shirt with short sleeves.“ She felt embarrassed – and I too.

Afareen – THE SPHINX

I asked Afareen if the dresscode was strict for her.

She said it was very much so and the rules,  how girls were expected to behave and to dress were changing almost daily. “How do you pick it up, in the newspaper, from TV? Most often at the workplace. I feel it, when I enter the office in the morning. I get a dirty look from one of my female workers.“ That would do, she said, and she would adapt.