There seem to be all signs in place that this year’s Pyongyang International Film Festival will take place in the North Korean capital. Koryo Tours, British-led, Beijing-based tour operator with an unprecedented access to destinations in North Korea, made sure there is an official website for the event. (See The Bittersweet Taste of Soft Power: North Korea’s flirting with tourism)
According to Wikipedia, the biennial cultural exhibition is an unusually cosmopolitan event for a state known to be reclusive to outside (particularly Western) contact. The 13th PIFF is scheduled to be held from September 20 to 27, 2012. Cinema-goers have the option of staying at the Deluxe Yanggakdo International Hotel, which is in close proximity to the Pyongyang International Cinema House.
The event originated in 1987 as the Pyongyang Film Festival of the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries. As the name precisely delineated, the festival was a cultural exchange between countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. The maiden event, held from September 1 through September 10, showed short films, features, and documentaries that were judged for competitive awards.
The film festival returned in 1990 and would be regularly held every other year. Recurrent subject matter included domestic cinema that commonly praised the high leadership such as a film shown at the 1992 film festival, verbosely translated, Glory of Our People in Holding the Great Leader in High Esteem, and foreign films about revolutionary resistance. In 2000, officials widened the acceptable breadth of film watching, by screening Japanese films for the first time.
The ninth festival, held in 2004, moderated cultural restrictions further with the screening of a dubbed and censored version of the British comedy Bend It Like Beckham and U.S.-produced South African drama Cry, The Beloved Country.
In 2006, the Swedish horror comedy Frostbiten was shown at the festival, being the first foreign horror film to ever be shown in North Korea. The Schoolgirl’s Diary, which premiered at the 2006 festival, in 2007 became the first North Korean film in several decades to be picked up for international distribution, when it was purchased by French company Pretty Pictures. It was released in France in late 2007. In recent years, the film festival has included films from Western countries with which Pyongyang has diplomatic relations. Many of the films are censored and often have themes emphasising family values, loyalty and the temptations of money.
Koryo Tours has been the official Foreign Representative for the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival since 2002 when they first submitted their film on the North Korean World Cup football team of 1966 ‘The Game of Their Lives’ to a packed North Korean audience.
Koryo Tours is offering a special tour for this year’s PIFF that goes for EUR 1,990 (S$3,071). It allows access to film screenings, meet-ups with directors, actors and students, as well as a tour of the film studio and locations where Koryo filmed in-house release Comrade Kim Goes Flying. (See Kim Jong-il the Creative (film fan) and My North Korean film classes in humanity and creativity)