North Korean propaganda pans Australian miners' might

Aim High in Creation! (M). Director: Anna Broinowski. Starring: Peter O'Brien, Susan Prior, Kathryn Beck, Matt Zeremes, Elliott Weston. 97 minutes

Broinowski is an offbeat documentarian. Her 2007 film Forbidden Lie$ was a hilarious, gripping portrait of a possible pathological liar, Norma Khouri, whose memoir about a Muslim friend killed for dating a Christian was a best seller before it was debunked. Broinowski toyed gleefully with the documentary form, playing both confidante and foil to the charismatic Khouri, genuinely liking and wanting to believe her while studiously tumbling each earnest fib. The film at the same time considered seriously the issue of honour killings in Jordan.

Aim High in Creation! plays just as fast and loose with the rules of documentary filmmaking, making no pretense to objectivity and aiming to provide a high level of entertainment while also making a serious point. Broinowski's target this time is the corporate behemoth behind a gas mine planned for construction near her inner-Sydney home. Appalled by the environmental and health risks — particularly to her young daughter — implied by such a mine, and loath to sit by powerless, Broinowski takes it upon herself to make a film that will start a revolution.

Yes, we are talking fully-fledged propaganda here. And where better to learn the art of propaganda decrying Western capitalist greed than North Korea? Broinowski writes a script and assembles a cast of Australian screen actors — among them television mainstays O'Brien and Prior — then heads to the Republic to study at the feet of its big-screen masters, a temporary disciple of late dictator Kim Jong'il's cinematic manifesto. In this Broinowski gains unprecedented access to directors, composers and other North Korean industry experts.

Aim High offers an intriguing insight into an industry whose strangely beautiful, if overwrought films have been part of a tapestry of indoctrination used to obfuscate serious human rights abuses in the country. Broinowski acknowledges this fact perhaps too lightly, approaching her individual subjects simply as humans, who are part but by no means the sum of a much larger corrupt system. One wonders if Hannah Arendt would let them off the hook so blithely. Still, Broinowski's warmth and respect for the individuals she encounters is charming.

The film wobbles back and forth between this study of North Korea's film industry, Broinowski's attempts to instill its lessons into her often recalcitrant actors, and an earnest examination of the dubious practices of mining companies. She is uncompromising, and not above humiliating her actors (her interactions with them range from tense and awkward to downright silly), but she is equally self-deprecating: one of the best scenes sees her perform a cameo for a crotchety North Korean director, who proves impatient with her limited acting abilities.

Aim High is not as tight or compelling as Forbidden Lie$, but Broinowski's energy goes a long way to sustaining it. The run-up is wobbly, but she nails the landing, as the different strands come together in rousing fashion. The propaganda film she produces, presented in full during the film's climax, is surprisingly affecting. The magician Broinowski thus sells the illusion despite having spent the previous 90 minutes exposing its mechanics, and knots her muddled threads into a final, stirring speech about people power rising up against corporate might.

Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is the assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Aim High in Creation, Norma Khouri, Anna Broinowski, Peter O'Brien, North Korea, Kim Jong-il



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