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Don’t forget North Korea

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“Welcome to North Korea” debuts Tuesday on Cinemax, and “Frontline/World” repeats a segment on North Korea Thursday which first aired in January. “Frontline” is scheduled to to show “Kim’s Nuclear Gamble” on April 10th.

I wrote in January, “BBC reporter Ben Anderson spends a week in North Korea where he manages to both give a rare sense of what life is like there and bond with the minders who try to put a positive spin on everything (even famine).”

Check your local listings. Many PBS stations are still doing pledge drives (and you may want to check their website Thursday since there also could be special programming on the war). They are showing a new story on journalists covering the Israel-Palestine conflict who have come under fire from Israeli soldiers and repeating a story on a program which puts computers in poor communites in India (which is an excerpt from a longer documentary).

There is also an online only story on “life on the shifting borderlines between Israelis and Palestinians.” It is the first piece from their new fellowship program. “Frontline/World” is scheduled to air twice in May and once in June. Series editor Stephen Talbot told me next season, it will be on once a month.

Dutch filmmaker Tetteroo spent a week in North Korea in 2000. He covers some of the same ground as Anderson, but in a more somber tone. He has more time to show the country in “Welcome to North Korea” which is nearly an hour long. There is a particularly compelling interview with a former propaganda worker who fled with his family to South Korea. This is not the kind of country you want to have nuclear weapons.

It is clear from both reports that North Korea should not be placed on the back burner either by the administration or the media, but both only seem to be able to focus on one area at a time all too often (major events in Yugoslavia where the war before the last war took place being virtually ignored is just one example).

The “Welcome” filmmakers were interviewed on “The World” (4th segment, the last segment is on “Amandla: a Revolution in Four Part Harmony” which is in theaters now and will be on HBO later this spring).

The BBC documentary “The Game of Their Lives” just finished a U.S. tour. After a screening at the Castro as part of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, director Daniel Gordon told me they were hoping it would be shown on television here.

In addition to telling a compelling sports story (it could run on ESPN) about the 1966 World Cup soccer team, it shows North Koreans as people. This is something Anderson manages to do to a certain extent (given the short time), but “Welcome” doesn’t do at all. It also demonstrates how sports can break down hostilities created by governments. Gordon is already shooting a new documentary in North Korea on the Mass Games.

What “Welcome” does do is reveal is the impressive buildings in all the films are virtually empty (they are the only guests in a 45 story hotel). A little more scrutiny might reveal just how empty the administration’s current approach to North Korea is behind the rhetoric.

This was written for TVBarn.

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