Korean DMZ Documentary Festival to Open With U.S. Co-Production ‘I Am Sun Mu’

'I Am Sun Mu' Still H 2015
DMZ Docs

Held in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, the festival shines a spotlight on political controversies both local and international.

The 7th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival (DMZ Docs) will open with I Am Sun Mu, a U.S.-China-Korea co-production about a North Korean defector, organizers announced in Seoul on Tuesday.

The festival will screen 102 films from 43 countries right near the border between South and North Korea, the infamous demilitarized zone (DMZ), from Sept. 17-24.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, or for Korea, its liberation from colonial Japan (1910-1945), as well as the separation of the peninsula into the U.S.-occupied South and then-U.S.S.R.-controlled North. 

This year’s edition will be held for the second time at Camp Greaves, a former U.S. military base within the “Civilian Controlled Line” — a buffer zone along the DMZ that remains off limits to civilians. It is closest that the average person could get to North Korea.

“I believe the film festival is a great start for turning Camp Greaves into a cultural space,” said festival director and actor Cho Jae-hyun. “It appears the local Gyeonngi Province government feels the same way. You can’t actually go inside the DMZ zone, so the camp really serves as a symbolic landmark.”

Equipped with a movie theater and gymnasium, Camp Greaves was set up during the Korean War (1950-53) and was returned to Korea in 2007. It now houses a strictly controlled youth hostel, and tours are expected to increase with plans by the South Korean government to establish an “international peace park” around it.

“It’s been 70 years since liberation, but recent events [involving heavy arms crossfire between North and South Korea] have shown that Korea’s true liberation means unification. This makes DMZ Docs all the more important for promoting messages of peace,” said Nam Kyung-pil, Gyeonggi Province governor and festival chairman.

The opening film by Adam SjobergI Am Sun Mu, for example, is about an artist who escaped North Korea, turning his back on propaganda art to create polar-opposite, political-pop art pieces. This year’s main international competition section will feature 12 titles about violence and war, while the newly established Asian competition slate includes eight titles that capture the modernization of China, Iran and South Asian countries.

Among the eight contenders in the Korean competition is a documentary about the bereaved families of last year’s ferry disaster. In light of how The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol became the subject of much controversy at last year’s Busan International Film Festival, DMZ Docs organizers emphasized the importance of freedom of expression. “It has been a policy of Gyeonggi Province to support artworks but not interfere,” Nam said.

Camp Greaves