Documentary film is a potent source of knowledge production, carrying assumptions of authority and sobriety. It offers the audience “reality,” even as it mediates heavily and imposes discursive judgments onto the subject matter. This subjectivity is especially problematic in documentary films about North Korea, as Western filmmakers find it difficult to escape wartime racism, anticommunist, and Orientalist frameworks, while at the same time the DPRK resists knowledge production about itself. 

This USKI Working Paper by Andray Abrahamian looks at four influential films–Welcome to North Korea, The Vice Guide to North Korea, A State of Mind, and North Korea: A Day in the Life–to examine how they cope with problems of subjectivity, bias, and representing reality.

Andray Abrahamian is a freelance writer on Korea issues. He currently teaches in the Social Science College at the University of Ulsan in South Korea while working toward completing his doctoral dissertation on contemporary Orientalism and Western images of North Korea. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Sussex, where he focused on Realist and Critical Theory approaches to East Asian relations.