Meet the Filmmakers: Andrzej Fidyk--'Yodok Stories'

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Over the next few weeks, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 8-14 in New York City and August 22-28 in Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Andrzej Fidyk, director of Yodok Stories.

Synopsis: North Korean Great Leader Kim Il Sung ordered the seed of class enemies destroyed to the third generation. Anyone in a family with a "criminal" is considered guilty by association. That is why entire families are sent to labor camps with life sentences, and without court hearings. Today more than 200,000 are imprisoned, subject to the worst kinds of slave labor and torture. Of the many hundreds of thousands who have lived and died in the camps, only a few have escaped. In Seoul, South Korea, these escapees decided to expose the camps through a controversial musical based on their own experiences.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Andrzej Fidyk: My life adventure with documentary filmmaking began completely by chance. I studied economics. After graduation I worked for a foreign trade company for two years, but I hated that work. At that time Polish Television announced a contest for the position of production manager, which I won. I find it funny that at the time of starting my work for Polish TV, I had no idea that something like documentary film existed. After two years of learning this new business, suddenly I had a chance to direct my first documentary, George Walks through the Country. It was quite successful and won a prize for debutants at Cracow Short Film Festival. For me it was a big surprise as I had not much knowledge about making films at that time. I just tried to tell the story in the most attractive way. I realized then that telling stories is my strong point.

IDA: What inspired you to make Yodok Stories?

AF: In 1988 I made the film The Parade inside North Korea. Since then, all the things concerning this super totalitarian country have been very close to me. For quite some time I had thought about how to present a North Korean concentration camp in a documentary film since, for obvious reasons, you can't just go in there with a camera. And from this, the idea of making the theatrical performance showing the life in such a camp came into my mind.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

AF: The main challenge was making things happen, starting from finding the right people, finding money and organizing everything in a very far away country of a different culture, mentality and very different language. Also, for many of the North Koreans, it was difficult to take part for fear of consequences to their families in North Korea. So, we experienced participants pulling out of the production.

Naturally the North Korean regime did not want us to make this project, so both cast and crew of the performance received death threats, and we feared people would somehow be hurt, that the stage would be bombed or that somebody's family would be sent to the camps. However, the North Korean defectors were extremely determined to continue and carry through with our project, so we had no choice but to do the same. Another thing was that all the stories told about the horrible things happening in camps in North Korea. That affected me personally very much and I did not really take it well. I knew that I had to make a good and interesting movie from the things that gave me nightmares at night. That was definitely the biggest challenge of making this film.

IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

AF: All the decisions about the final shape of the film were made during the editing process.

IDA: As you've screened Yodok Stories-whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

AF: So far the film has only been shown once in the cinema. What struck me strongly was the very, very, very long silence after the screening. People said that they were totally shocked and moved.

IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

AF: My inspirations are always things that happen to people in the world. The stories are taken from life all over the world of various people.

Yodok Stories will be screening at the Village East Cinema in New York and the Arclight Sherman Oaks (Calif.).

To view the DocuWeek schedule in New York City, visit http://www.documentary.org/content/docuweek-new-york.

To purchase tickets to DocuWeek NY, visit www.villageeastcinema.com and www.ifccenter.com.

To view the DocuWeek schedule in Los Angeles, visit http://www.documentary.org/content/docuweek-los-angeles.

To purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks, visit www.arclightcinemas.com.