On Soon-Mi Yoo

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | March 25, 2015

Soon-Mi Yoo, still from Songs from the North, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Soon-Mi Yoo, still from Songs from the North, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

An acrobat flies through the darkened hall, followed by two circles of light and a haunting soprano voice. The acrobat seemingly divides into two bodies that intertwine with each other as the music builds to a crescendo. Suddenly, one of the acrobats falls, we hear a startled gasp from the camerawoman, and the footage switches. We are presented with the image of a military rocket standing on a launch pad—silent and imposing—a symbol of national technological and military prowess.

 Is North Korea the loneliest place on Earth? A country without friends, without history. Only myths, repeated endlessly from morning to night.

Soon-Mi Yoo investigates the mythology of state propaganda in her first feature length film, Songs from the North. The South Korean-born, US-based filmmaker poetically juxtaposes contemporary footage shot during her three visits to North Korea with archival material from governmentally supported movies and theater performances. The contrast between the emotionally manipulative archive material—intended for use as propaganda—and the documentary footage of 21st century North Korea is stark and intensified by Yoo’s lingering camera work.

The striking combination of found and shot footage construct a narrative that is punctuated by the tales of Yoo’s South Korean father and candid shots of North Korean life. Her personal interest in North Korea, an ever-present entity during her childhood, is apparent as her father negotiates the near past through the lively articulation of his role in the Korean War as a young man.

Songs from the North is a film that allows space for multiple contradictions to sit with each other—reality and fiction, the familiar and the foreign. Yoo weaves imagery, national mythology, and personal (if limited) first-hand experience into a work that shines a light onto “the loneliest place on Earth.” I’m delighted that we will be screening Songs from the North for Conversations at the Edge this Thursday March 26th with Soon-Mi Yoo in person and I hope that you’ll be able to join us.

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