Director and writer Vitaliy Manskiy gained special permission to produce a documentary on life in North Korea, focusing in particular on one family and their daughter’s being chosen to help celebrate the Day of the Shining Star, commemorating the birthday of the country’s former Supreme Leader.
Granted rare access to film within the little-known society, the script and what Manskiy could shoot was proscribed to him by the authorities who intended to play a more than casual role in the film’s production.
Instead, Manskiy left the camera rolling, capturing innumerable footage that would otherwise have never made it to air. Barely inserting themselves into the documentary, the filmmakers opted to just let the viewer see what was supposed to be on display for their eyes alone, reserving their commentary for the occasional and sardonically scathing explanation of events flashing at the bottom of the screen.
Featuring both candid footage and stock originally produced for the documentary, the filmmakers intended for the behind-the-scenes footage to be as instructive as that sanctioned by the State, including both in large measure to contrast with the other and paint their picture of the regime. Too exhibiting the before and after takes of sequences intended for the authorised film, Under The Sun includes these instances together and often as one fluid, incongruous shot.
In one scene, an authority figure begins extolling the virtues of the country’s history to a group of children and pauses to ask what he should say next, only for another man to literally pop his head out from behind a curtain and give him instruction. In other sequences, repeated takes are shown of a family sitting down to dinner as the staging is thoroughly workshopped and refined.
Eye-raising by virtue of its very existence and character, Under The Sun is as much about unmasking the verisimilitude of documentary filmmaking as it is a conduit for Manskiy making his belaboured point about North Korea.
Under The Sun is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Saturday 11 June and Saturday 18 June – for tickets head to the Festival website