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“I had the constant feeling I was being manipulated”

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Álvaro Longoria • Director


- Spanish director Álvaro Longoria discusses what his perhaps unprecedented access to North Korea enabled him to achieve in The Propaganda Game

Álvaro Longoria • Director

Having already played at festivals such as the 63rd Festival de San Sebastian and sitting on the cusp of being distributed in the UK by Metrodome, Álvaro Longoria’s documentary about North Korea, The Propaganda Game [+see also:
interview: Álvaro Longoria
film profile
, certainly appears to be enjoying a healthy success. Already a seasoned documentary director and winner of a Goya award thanks to his previous Berlinale entry Sons of the Clouds [+see also:
film profile
, you get a distinct impression that his new feature will connect well with those curious to know more about life under Kim Jong-un.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: What made you first want to make this film?
Álvaro Longoria:
Well, I was for many years interested by North Korea. Certainly as a producer, I’ve worked on a number of documentaries which have focused explicitly on political characters, and it’s always been an interest of mine.

For many years I’ve been trying to get access to North Korea, but I’ve never managed to get anywhere even close until now. I mean it really is a very tight country. It’s very difficult to get in. So imagine how hard it must be to get as far as talking to someone. This definitely fascinated me, though. Maybe it’s a sort of nostalgia for this lost kind of system: these communistic, idealistic systems. I think the fact it represents an almost extinct system is part of what makes North Korea so attractive.

So is this nostalgia political?
No, no, not at all. I’m more of a historian, I would say. I tend to look at things more from a historical point of view, and I do really think that North Korea is history in the making. In ten years’ time, people will be able to watch this film and see what life in the region was like – and I hope the country will not be in the same state that it is now.

I don’t have a very clear-cut political preference though. I find I tend to change, from either left wing or right wing. But I’m definitely not a communist. Nevertheless, I do find communism very interesting.

It seemed like your film was often interesting in analysing the Western propaganda surrounding North Korea too.
I think that just happened to be an organic thing, because when I was preparing for the film I read a lot of articles and interviewed a lot of people, and even then I had the constant feeling I was being manipulated. I would even get visits from the South Korean embassy, and they would just turn up with loads of books. They knew what I was planning to do, and they would say, “We want you to read this and be aware of these facts.” This kind of controlling ultimately became so obvious to me.

But then what also shocked me the most was the fact that so much of the news was not real. I mean I ended up asking myself, “What’s going on here?” because that’s really pretty unusual. It’s not normal for you to have CNN or Fox or other broadcasters saying things which are later proven to be not true. That lead me to start analysing this, and I realised that there’s a lot of propaganda at play here too.

So my film is basically first and foremost about propaganda, because during the creative process I began to realise that I would never be able to understand the situation fully or find all of the answers that I wanted.

That seems like an interesting place for documentary to be, because the genre is often so much about establishing truths.
I think for me this was the real thesis of the film. Okay, you’re going to be told one truth, and you might believe it, but somebody will definitely tell you the opposite and you might just believe that too! So at the end of the day, it’s really up to you. Each person has to decide for themselves. I really wanted to make that a strong position in my movie.

I’m never trying to tell you the way things are, I’m always asking you to make the decision, because that’s exactly what propaganda is not about. Propaganda is always telling its audience what it has to feel and think. Instead my goal was always to make you think, “Okay, I’ll have to think twice next time I assume all these things you hear about North Korea are true.” Maybe what they’re telling you are not true truths. You have to think about it, because maybe you’re being played with. 

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