North Korea has long been painted as one of the globe's most sinister regions. Much of our understanding derives from the images we receive from mainstream media and the country's own self-produced propaganda, including lavish parades of nuclear missiles and the people's slavish devotion to dictator Kim Jong-un. The revealing documentary Have Fun in Pyongyang attempts to deepen our understanding of everyday life in the country by focusing on the lives of its citizens.
Shot over a period of eight years, the film traces an evolving North Korea whose people have bravely weathered endless conflicts and uncertainty. A real estate boom has taken hold in the country's capital Pyongyang. High rise structures grace an impressive skyline. Playgrounds, amusement parks and other leisure activities are commonplace.
Much like in other parts of the world, marriage and career are dominant and defining goals. Traditional social hierarchies have been challenged, and arranged marriages are no longer as widespread as they once were just a few years ago. The culture seems to have embraced the concept of consumerism, and the newly affluent class now enjoys fine dining and other cultural perks. Some apartments are equipped with fully functional computers, and millions of citizens use cell phones.
Patriotism continues to motor the country's manufacturing industries. The filmmakers visit a shoe factory that works to copy popular fashions from around the world while strengthening its own inventory of imports. This is especially crucial as the country is continuously in the crosshairs of international sanctions.
The signs of propaganda remain a constant throughout the countryside. State-run schools focus on instilling the unquestioning devotion of the country's past and present rulers. Cameras are banned from capturing many aspects of North Korean society, including any activities involving the military. But wherever the documentary cameras do roam - whether it be a family gathering in a park or a group of friends enjoying a night out at a bowling alley - we are faced with a people whose hopes and dreams are not at all unlike ours.
Have Fun in Pyongyang is an eye-opening portrait of a region that stokes much speculation from outsiders across the globe, but very little first-hand understanding.