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Pyongyang Film Studios
On the outskirts of Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea, sprawls an enormous film studio...

I was fortunate enough to tour the studio while travelling the country in 2014, and it turned out to be a small but intriguing glimpse into the massive state media machine which the DPRK is known for the world over.

On these grounds, the country’s prolific movie industry has been churning out films for decades. This truly epic mural on the side of a studio building portrays the history of DPRK cinema and its most influential celebrities. 

Behind the studio complex, a winding road threads through a series of fake towns. Each village provides a backdrop for a different movie location: A medieval Korean palace, a western-style suburb, an occupation-era Korean town. 

The studio was largely deserted during our visit, although we did visit one live set, in an old-fashioned house in the back corner of the studio. They were shooting a dialogue scene with a RED camera (nothing but the best!) … but there was nobody recording sound! 

People tend to assume that everything tourists see in North Korea is staged, and that everyone you run into on the streets is an actor. That simply isn’t the case. There certainly are interactions on the tour that are staged, but they are so poorly executed that the experience leaves no ambiguity about what is genuine and what isn’t.

In the case of this set visit, even years later I’m not sure if what I was seeing was real or not. Were they really shooting with no sound? Were they going to dub it later? My own theory is that a crew was present but had wrapped up shooting for the day. When us tourists showed up, they scrambled together an impromptu scene for our benefit, with whatever equipment hadn’t been packed up yet. 

This brothel stood on the edge of the fake town. 

A Pyongyang family was also wandering the backlot while we were visiting, mugging for the camera in front of the medieval set pieces. 

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