Under The Radar
Ukrainian director Vitaly Mansky wanted to make a film in North Korea. And "Under The Sun" is the fruit of that labor. But he scarcely could have imagined the paths he would travel while pursuing this elusive goal.
For two years, Mansky negotiated with members of the North Korean government. Imagine negotiating with people who, if they make a mistake, could end up murdered by their own fearless leader. You think your job is stressful?
When an agreement was finally reached, Mansky was left with a pretty bizarre task. The agreement stipulated that North Korea would write the script and select the subjects for the film. Mansky was instructed that he would only be allowed to film approved scenes in approved locations. When Mansky was done with shooting, the footage would be given to the North Korean officials who would delete any footage they felt would not be approved by Kim Jong-un.
Mansky came up with a way around the restrictions placed upon his crew. What he did was keep his digital cameras rolling surreptitiously all day. His cameras caught the North Koreans setting up every scene that was designed to look like real-life in North Korea. The North Koreans being filmed were seen getting instructions and then doing multiple takes until the North Koreans were happy with the results. At the end of each day of shooting, Mansky had to turn in his memory cards for the North Koreans to review.
What the North Koreans didn't know was that Mansky's crew kept two versions of memory cards and only turned in the cards that didn't include Mansky's extra footage. The other footage was smuggled out of the country. Mansky and his crew were risking lengthy jail terms by taking these actions, which must have led to many harrowing moments. What we as the audience end up getting to see is a real documentary hiding within the confines of a state-sanctioned fantasy.
"Under The Sun" is a voyeuristic peek behind the curtains of Kim Jong-un's North Korea and there are moments where you're almost giddy that you're somehow in on the gag of fooling the North Korean government. The downside is that you're still being subjected to an utterly bland and mind-numbing official North Korean production. But at least you can snicker at these scnes knowing what went into their making.
The concept and execution of "Under The Sun" is undoubtedly amusing, but in the end, the idea is somewhat better than the finished product.