Anna Broinowski discusses Aim High in Creation!, a film that re-writes the documentary rulebook.
Aim High In Creation! is a revolutionary film that re-writes the rulebook of the documentary genre. It’s a stylish ‘docuempathy’ about the coal seam gas industry, lead by illustrious director-protagonist Anna Broinowski (Forbidden Lie$). Examining the malleable nature of truth, this propaganda film was made adherent to the rules of The Cinema and Directing – the unquestionably definitive guide to filmmaking penned by cinematic genius, NBA aficionado, and supremely brutal dictator Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. Aim High in Creation suggests that everyone is subject to propaganda no matter where they live. What other cultural similarities or differences were apparent to you in North Korea? The differences are pretty stark. We’re allowed to get up on Facebook and say “Tony Abbott is a lying dickhead” if we want to. But the North Koreans would be quickly dispatched with… It’s very hard to think of any similarities between their political system and ours… The only thing that we have in common is that we’re both barraged by propaganda. So in North Korea the propaganda is about how North Korea is the greatest nation on earth and the leaders are the greatest leaders on earth. In Australia and the west the propaganda is commercial. So it’s driven by the capitalist system that wants to persuade us to buy… We don’t call it ‘propaganda’, we call it ‘advertising,’ but it is basically just a highly sophisticated form of the same thing. It’s selling us an ideology, which is, ‘to be happy, you must buy’. What’s the effect of this commercial propaganda in the west? I think we are as anaesthetised to it as the North Koreans are to their propaganda. We just treat is as an everyday part of our lives. There are increasingly sophisticated ways of selling to us now, to the point where they can pick up who you are in a mall, on an escalator, and then change the kind of ads that flash at you as you walk past the LCD screens. I only woke up to this idea that we’re barraged by going to North Korea. It’s only when you go to an environment without advertising that you’re struck that something’s wrong. When I first went to Pyongyang and there are no ads anywhere, no billboards, no internet and no mobile phones, I thought, “Wow, this place is like a giant outdoor museum. But something’s missing.” I felt like there was a real absence there and I suddenly realised what it was. It was advertising. So to be in an environment like that for two weeks is like a materialism detox. Technology plays an increasingly large role in this as well. How did the lack of technology in North Korea affect your film? It’s a pre-digital country. Their films are still shot on celluloid film stock on film cameras without synch sound. They’re cut by hand on Steenbecks. Think 1950s Italian b-movies and you’re kind of close to what I’m talking about. When they wanted to check my rushes to make sure nothing I’d filmed would be a problem for the regime, I gave their computer guy… my rushes on LaCie hard-drives and he came back two days later looking really worried. I thought, “Oh God, what’s wrong? He’s going to ask me to delete all this stuff.” But he didn’t have the software to watch the files… You can only watch them on QuickTime. So I gave him QuickTime 10 on a USB and it was like all his Christmases had come at once. I hope to God that if the next rocket launch is a success it’s not because I gave a North Korean QuickTime 10. North Korean films often have an interest in the environment and nature, which we’re sometimes quite disconnected from here. What else holds emotional resonance there that we’re not affected by here? North Korean filmmakers, contrary to what you’d think, make a surprising range of genre films. They make rom-coms, historical melodramas, military action pics, monster movies, film noir, you name it… but the messages that they’re allowed to say in these films are very limited. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, the message is normally ‘he who sacrifices himself or herself for the good of the nation will be rewarded’. It’s all about loyalty to the state. That’s what’s being fed to North Koreans through their movies. A big difference I found between North Korean movies and western movies is that North Korean movies tend to have many, many more female lead characters than we do. In the west, films starring women – it’s disgusting but true – are normally seen as niche. When they do great box office… Hollywood turns around and says, “Oh, that was a surprising hit!” North Korean movies are different. At least half of the time if not more [they’re] about women, starring women. That was really interesting to me. The woman tends to go through great suffering in the movie before she finally saves her village for the good of the nation and is celebrated. North Korean movies pass the Bechdel Test whereas most western movies fail it, because North Korean women are not in these movies to fall in love with men. Love stories are secondary. Women are in these movies to save the village by inventing a new sewing machine or become a tractor driver and build new crops. Aim High in Creation is a very timely film. Why is this story important to you right now? For so many reasons. The coal seam gas industry is a highly sophisticated industry. Of all the industries out there that are bad for the environment, and I include nuclear, the coal seam gas lobby has somehow managed to persuade people that gas is green and clean and cheap. They’ve used very sophisticated advertising to do it and the general public is convinced. To me, it’s really, really important that people read between the lines of the spin. I think it’s important too because of… the acknowledgement that free market capitalism has got out of hand. It’s especially affecting young people and students – look at the latest budget. This skewing of economics toward benefiting ‘The One Percent’ and making the already underprivileged more underprivileged, through industries like mining, really bothers me. One of the first tenets of socialism is free education and healthcare for all, and the other is ‘the people united will never be defeated’. The way people are mobilising – we’re talking farmers who vote conservative teaming up with ‘feral lefties from the city’ – to stop these multinational conglomerates from coming in and taking our land and spoiling our water; to me, that’s an example… of socialist values at work. The people rising up to stop this thing. We have to. It’s the only chance, the only way we can do it. Aim High in Creation screens at the Mercury Cinema until Thursday, June 12. Full list of screening times here
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