Seoul-based filmmaker Nils Clauss has made a documentary on an unusual cultural exchange between North Korea and Germany.
“Orchestral Manoeuvres in the North” shows what happened when the Goethe-Institut Korea arranged for the Munich Chamber Orchestra to travel to North Korea and work with North Korean musicians.
Clauss was invited by the Goethe-Institut to document the visit, but it was not initially clear whether they would be allowed to film. So he went initially as a photographer, packing a DSLR camera, with the hope that he would be allowed to shoot. But he was given more freedom than he had initially expected.
“When we got there they were really open about it. They said no problem, just don’t film any military, don’t film any train stations or airport or any infrastructure in a military sense,” he said, conceding that although they let him film almost anything, they didn’t allow him to go wherever he wanted.
|The promotional image for “Orchestral Manoeuvres in the North”. (Nils Clauss)|
There was another benefit to this approach. He explained that although they were open about filming, using a small camera usually made people less uncomfortable and kept things low key.
“I think in North Korea if you take in a lot of people and a lot of equipment you ruin a lot and you don’t get the story that you want to tell,” he said.
This lack of imposing equipment may have helped him in the interviews, but Clauss still found the North Korean musicians reticent.
“I felt they were quite restricted in some ways. Not really knowing what to say, how to answer and also not knowing if they were in the position to answer.”
Clauss did interviews outside the classes, but the guides would soon intervene, so those included were filmed during teaching sessions.
“They were guiding the questions and also the answers which I was supposed to be given,” he said. “So I was quite happy that also they had this program of the students studying with the Munich musicians in these chamber classes where it was very much one to one and you had an opportunity to get the students on the spot and get some great responses from them.”
The German musicians enjoyed the visit, Clauss said, but there may have been darker feelings mixed in.
“The general impression was that they really enjoyed the chamber music classes and the one-to-one teaching because they felt that the North Korean students were so into it and got so much out of it and they really felt that they could contribute something and could help,” said Clauss.
“But on the other hand I think it was heavy for them that they thought ‘well there’s so many restrictions and we’re from a country where we don’t have to deal with this.’ And they probably felt a bit sorry for the students and the people who are living in a system like that and there’s also not much you can do about that.
“And also for the German musicians I think what was at the back of their heads was probably Germany before it was reunified, from the GDR. Some people had that background or their parents had that background where they lived and grew up in the GDR,” he said, GDR referring to East Germany.
Reflecting these slightly mixed feelings with the general tone ― a friendly portrait of a cultural exchange ― was a balancing act for Clauss, who said the two sides got along well.
“At the end after the closing dinner, I think some of them were close to crying when they were separating,” he said.
“So the whole message of cultural exchange, that it has a big potential, and I think that’s true.
“But of course there’s restrictions and I think a lot of the Munich musicians also felt that and it wasn’t easy for them. And so I thought that I should put that as well into the documentary without making it too much in your face.”
During one interview a woman comes into the background and talks to another musician. Her words can’t be heard, but it was suggested to Clauss that he not include the scene, as she is a distraction.
But Clauss felt it added something.
“I felt it was some sort of subtle commentary, because the woman obviously comes into the room to check what’s going on and what’s happening there so I quite like that she’s in the background.”
Clauss explained that he and the Goethe-Institut were unsure what to expect, so using the time effectively was a challenge, and that the story was to a large extent created in the edit.
This is perhaps evident in another version, edited in Germany for a 5-minute TV piece. Clauss said many of the scenes were in both versions but the TV version had shots of people smiling with each other over the farewell dinner.
“I didn’t really want this in the film I made because I didn’t want to make it obviously over the top, I wanted to keep it subtle, and the message of the friendly encounter I think is also obvious in my film.”
To see the film, which has also been picked up by the staff pick channel on Vimeo, visit http://www.nilsclauss.com/#orchestral
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org