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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Doors of Perception: or Heaven and Hell
I am not normally one for documentaries but so much has been said about the regime in North Korea that this movie was impossible to pass up. One cannot be anything else but sceptical when reading the jacket notes about the access of the documentary crew and the lack of interference by the minders but after watching the movie it is clear why this is the case...
Published on February 4, 2006 by Junglies

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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NO GOOD!
If you are looking for a documentary that glorifies north korea (purposely not capitalized) then you have found it. This documentary follows two well-off, misguided children who get to play at parks and eat chocolates and forgets that most north koreans are starving and living in death camps. I expect daniel gordon (the writer and director) will be moving soon to north...
Published 9 months ago by Bill


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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Doors of Perception: or Heaven and Hell, February 4, 2006
By 
Junglies (Morrisville, NC United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
I am not normally one for documentaries but so much has been said about the regime in North Korea that this movie was impossible to pass up. One cannot be anything else but sceptical when reading the jacket notes about the access of the documentary crew and the lack of interference by the minders but after watching the movie it is clear why this is the case.

The subject matter is relatively straightforward. North Korea operates under a collectivist regime where individuality is sacrificed to the needs of the state. The documentary examines a public manifestation of that overarching impetus in the Mass Games and counterposes the lives of two individuals aspiring to participate in the presentation before the current leader of the country. As a backdrop to that journey the documentary looks at the ordinary lives that these two people lead in their journey to the event.

What emerges is a picture of a society where the inhabitants see the outside world from a perspective which is radically different from that of secular westerners. The concept which continualy comes to mind is gestalt which means that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. What is fascinating to me is that there is no coming together of either view. The documentary presents a picture which is sumptuous in it's colours and organisational feats but which illustrates to our eyes the paucity of the collectivist ethos and the damage which is done to the individuals in that society. At the same time ina gestalt switch the viewer who holds such views sees the same film as one which illustrates the achievement of something for the common good despite the considerable adversity. Shoertages are endured and people are taught to be self-reliant, a concept so proudly associated with the concepts of Liberalism (in the European rather than the American sense).

One is transfixed as the movie progresses with the determination and resolve the two young girls show in order to achieve, for them, the highest possible accolade in their society.

From a slightly more jaundiced perspective it is not surprising that this film was shot without interference. Both families under the watch of the filmcrew live in Pyon Yang, rightly considered to be the showcase of North Korea's socialist sytem. The only departure from that city is to a collective farm for a brief holiday and although the famine's and food aid are mentioned it is not possible to infer any generalisation about life in the country from that one example which is not filmed in much detail.

All in all this is a film about individual development in a totalitarian state. For those of us who aspire to Liberal ideals it is a testament to how individuals can achieve what they set out to achieve, regardles of the prevailing political sytem. For those of a more communitarian bent, it is a film which brings out the best features of a collective system where the individual subordinates their own needs to those of the society as a whole.

This certainly is a spectacular movie, no getting away from that. It is also the first peek under a very heavy curtain and hopefully will not be the last. As a counterfactual it would be interesting to see a North Korean documentary on a western democracy to try to understand their society a little more.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Repression, October 14, 2006
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This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
"A State of Mind" is a documentary following two North Korean gymnast girls, aged 11 and 13, as they prepare to participate in the yearly national "Mass Games", which are similar in scope to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Though not a "political" documentary, it is clear that North Korea is "a state of mind-control". Nearly every public park, monument, mountain, etc is named after Kim Il Sung (dead founder of the country), or his son, the leader they call "The General", Kim Jong Il. Every person only had great things to say about him and only wanted to please him. Everyone is part of a group - there is never any individualism - you will not see a long-haired boy, and everyone wears the same clothes, etc. Anti-American/West viewpoints are hammered into the population daily through teachers at school, posters, museum exhibits (purporting the US dropped plague-virus bombs in the Korean War), etc. The Army marches with the Nazi goose-step. The state-provided radio can be turned down but not off, and only plays state propaganda. One family was fortunate enough to have a TV, given to them by the state for the girl's participation in the previous games. It, too, only broadcasts propaganda, and was on for only 5 hours a day. Just as well, because there are routine nightly power failures. You must have a permit to travel out of your city. There is no internet access or email. All this is not a good sign that the isolated nation is as enlightened as it would like us to think.

The girls are quite charming and the families seem fairly happy in their regimented life.

The DVD extras include a minimal interview with the director, a CNN segment about the movie, and a photo gallery. The optional English subtitles translate the spoken Korean words, but do not close-caption the English narration.

A bit pricey, but thumbs up.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare glimpse inside the lives of North Koreans, August 6, 2006
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This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
More than just a great film about the aspirations and success of two young athletes, "A State of Mind" is an amazing document of a country most of us know so little about. For the first time anywhere we get a peek inside a school, a train ride to Mt Paektu, a visit to a rural festival, and a glimpse inside the lives of the average North Korean, or at least the average resident of Pyongyang.

This is not the first movie on North Korea for filmmakers Daniel Gordon and Nick Bonner. Gordon, a former sports producer for Sky Sports and BBC, shot his first feature length project on the North Korean soccer team to the 1966 World Cup in England. That film, 2002's "The Game of Their Lives," went on to garner great critical acclaim and is one of the few films - if perhaps the only - to be shown near simultaneously in both North and South Korea.

Using the connections they had made in the production of "The Game of Their Lives," as well as the goodwill they had fostered with the North Korean government in making a nonpolitical film, Gordon and Bonner set out shortly thereafter to start work on "A State of Mind," for which they were given unlimited access, a rare privilege in North Korea.

The filmmakers spent the better part of 2003 in North Korea shooting two aspiring prepubescent female gymnasts and their families in Pyongyang. The camera follows them into their homes, showing us scenes of life that take place everyday all over the world - a mother rousting her child from bed, a grandmother pestering the granddaughter to do her homework, a quiet evening at home with the family around the television, three generations of women preparing meals, children trying to find ways to escape from their chores, a father complaining that he lives in a houseful of women who do nothing but chat, chart, chat.

Equally there are scenes that could not have been filmed anywhere else. The average citizen-athlete continually reminds us that he or she practices sport for the glory and amusement of the General (Kim Jong Il), who protects and guides the North Koreans through a dangerous and hostile world. Each Pyongyang apartment comes with preinstalled state radio, affixed to the wall, which can be turned down but can never be turned off. The family television is a gift from the state in thanks for their daughter's participation in the mass games. The father of one of the girls, a university instructor, reveals that for many years North Koreans couldn't understand the peace sign they saw foreigners making in footage broadcast on state television. A teacher solemnly instructs her students on the three great aspects for which Kim Jong Il is internationally admired - his ideology, his leadership, and his aura.

The main part of the film has Gordon and Bonner following the two girls as they train in preparation for the annual mass games, a gargantuan show featuring thousands of performers in elaborately choreographed dance. Like kids everywhere, the two girls featured here would at times rather be out playing with friends than practicing their routines, but for the most part seem happy in their lives and in their chance to perform at the main event. There's no post-games follow-up, but you know the girls must have disappointed that the General did not attend any of their performances.

Like "The Game of Their Lives," what makes "A State of Mind" truly special is that the filmmakers keep their opinions to themselves and let their subjects and the camera do the talking. The polemicizing has been left to the reviewers and the reporters, a very good example of which is contained in the bonus section of the DVD, a 5-minute feature from CNN in which "reporter" Paula Zahn makes it clear to her audience exactly how it is supposed to interpret some of these scenes.

See it for yourself and make your own decisions.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best and deepest insight into the mindset of North Korea, August 8, 2009
By 
P. Conlon (London, UK, Europe) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
North Korea fascinates due to it being the most isolated (by its own choice) and most severely repressive nation on Earth. There are, to my knowledge, three insightful DVDs on the subject: `A State of Mind', `National Geographic - Inside North Korea' and `North Korea: A Day in the Life'. I have purchased all three. An important point to note is that any footage allowed out of North Korea is almost exclusively of the capital, Pyongyang, which is far from being representative of life in the country as a whole. Only a fraction of the population are specially selected to live there; even for these `privilaged' souls life is bleak and dominated by political propaganda.
`A State of Mind' concentrates on the preparations of two young gymnasts for the showpiece Mass Games performance. Of the three, this DVD gives by far the best and deepest insight into the brainwashed mindset of the North Koreans, with its excellent documentary narration and carefully selected material. It is also important to bear in mind however that this film only shows what is approved by the regime - all the despicable aspects of the North Korean experience are not covered. There also has remarkable footage of the Mass Games of course and the grand military parades (both visually stunning) that seem to be the focus of life there.
`National Geographic - Inside North Korea', being told from our outsider's perspective, is the only complete and balanced overview of North Korea here. It puts North Korea on the map with its historical context, draws widely on footage from many sources and - free of regime censorship - shows as best it can the true horror story that the regime tries to hide at all costs. Information presented on health standards, nutrition and the extensive concentration camp system are quite staggering.
`North Korea: A Day in the Life' is what the title says it is; it follows a day in the life of a `typical' (regime selected) family in Pyongyang. This is not narrated and concentrates solely on the daily routine, so really brings across the bleakness of these people's life. Again this officially-approved film only shows what is approved by the regime. The carefully selected images shown (for example the table overloaded with food in a city known to be tightly rationed) and the often unreal scripted dialogue only really serve to show how out-of-touch the regime is which choreographed it. This film does show well the grinding inefficiencies of North Korean life, but all-in-all compares poorly with `A State of Mind'.
For a good understanding of North Korea, I recommend viewing `National Geographic - Inside North Korea' and `A State of Mind', in that order.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dancing for the General, January 7, 2011
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
Some years ago, at about the time the US military was liberating Iraq, removing weapons of mass destruction and ensuring that human rights were strictly respected there and independent but embedded military correspondents were reporting on sometimes staged 'news events' such as the toppling of Saddam's statue in central Baghdad, an independent BBC crew was allowed inside hard to penetrate North Korea to chronicle a few months in the life of a young Korean girl and her family. Apparently, other than being followed and observed 24x7 by North Korean translators and guides, there was no interference with their reporting and, as far as they could tell, their subjects were allowed to talk freely about their love for the General (North Korea's leader), their hatred of US imperialism and to show their pride for North Korea's great accomplishments.

Jong-il Kim, the girl they followed was one of the tens or hundreds of thousands who were training daily for what North Koreans call the Mass Games: periodic shows of synchronized gymnastics, singing and other patriotic activities. Those games together with the large military and popular parades are/were ways for the North Korea's leadership to show the 'masses' that the people and their leaders were and were going to stay 'as one' forever, keep their own style of socialism going and repel any outside attempts at overthrowing the leadership. The training was tough and intense and it began months in advance of the scheduled Mass Games but the kids shown appeared to be always determined and motivated and, while sometimes complaining of bruises or injuries, never questioning the importance of their work: to make the General happy and proud and prove themselves as great future patriots and communists. Dancing for the General, in General's presence is the greatest honor a young North Korean can possibly dream of.

As the training and rehearsals are followed we get a chance to see brief snapshots of life in North Korea's capital city. There is an apartment were a 'working class' family lives. There is another apartment in which a family of 'intellectuals' lives, not unlike the working class family apartment. Here is a housewife shopping for semi-plucked, skinny chicken - and each citizen is allowed one chicken and 6 eggs every month. There is this incredible Orwellian footage of the speaker (NOT a radio) that apparently MUST exist in every kitchen, piping constant government propaganda, whose volume can be lowered but can NEVER be turned off. Life is tough but people say they trust their leader and say that they are ready to die defending him. Pride they have and there's little else they have but pride seems to keep them going. Without revealing the plot because there is none, once the Mass Games take place - sadly, the General can't attend - and the performances are over the girls go back to intense training for the next Games and so life in North Korea continues.

Strangely, I could not stop watching this movie/documentary once I started. Beyond the staged ten thousand kids performing some elaborate and perfectly synchronized choreography the camera keeps coming back to the girls' families, their picnics, their sad-to-us-looking pilgrimages to revolutionary sacred grounds. It's heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time, observing the humanity of these overworked, undernourished, starved for real news little people and their quick transformation into fierce, perfectly disciplined fighters or robot-like-perfect flashy athletes and dancers, approvingly applauded by the ruling elite in the stands. These children who will never grow as tall as their chromosomes say they should, likely to begin losing their teeth and their good health at an early age and unlikely to ever travel beyond their country's and sometime their city's boundaries, they aren't that different from our own, pledging their allegiance to the flag each morning, better fed, playing different games, often within earshot of some news broadcast freely repeating what could be the consensus line on current events.

Lessons learned?

--
>> Brush your teeth, it's the law! <<
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Disturbing, January 9, 2011
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This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
It was a real treat for someone such as myself who loves to learn about life in other countries, the nuances of daily living for people in other parts of the world to watch a film with insight into one of the most isolated and secretive countries in the world. The film is informative, fascinating, and the narrator abstains from passing judgement on the subjects of the film.

I found parts of the film extremely disturbing. The everyday intense hatred of my country was definitely difficult to watch and I found this a distrubing aspect of the film. It made me very sad that the relations between my country and other parts of the world are so strained.

But on another level I found the film heartening in that it confirmed what I have always believed; people are people. No matter where they live. I watch two girls hanging out together, one wishing she had siblings, too instead of being an only child. I watch girls running around after class. I watch a family eating and laughing together. And it's all very human. And I think many people in my country and others need to see that. Need to see eadch other's human nature.

One complaint I have is that we only see Pyongyang which the narrator tells us is the wealthiest part of the country and it's an 'honor to live there.' I understand that a movie about a country has to have a scope but considering the limited amount of material concerning the country, I was disappointed to have such a limited view of the country to one city that is anything but typical.

Still, great film. Loved it!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting DVD on N Korea, June 29, 2006
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
One of two DVDs on North Korea I've seen: "Seoul Train" is another DVD I highly recommend (for the darker side of N Korea). Unlike "Seoul Train", "A State of Mind" tries to present an objective portrayal of life for two young gymnasts in Pyongyang. The filmakers don't have to try to highlight the negatives of life in N Korea: they come out naturally. You get to see the best of North Korea in this video. You also get a hint of the harsh realities: absurd and unnecessary hardships that North Koreans accept as a normal way of life because their Dear Leader has trained them to. Also interesting is the specific hatred for the USA cultivated in all North Koreans by their government. All in all, a worthwhile DVD for someone wanting to know more about life in Pyongyang, the showcase capital of North Korea.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "State of Mind", March 11, 2006
By 
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
I highly recommend A State of Mind, a newly released documentary on North Korea. Why do I recommend it? It is particularly worth seeing because British filmmaker, Daniel Gordon, was actually given permission to film by North Korea, one of the least known or understood nations in the world. The film dramatically conveys how an authoritarian regime has shaped the minds of its people. North Koreans are totally indoctrinated in believing in their Dear Leader, communism and the idea that their country is the best place in the world. The film provides images of Pyongyang and the way of life of the people who reside there. Interviews reveal that North Koreans are very interested in our war in Iraq and convinced that the United States is an imperialist threat to their way of life and that our economic sanctions are the source of their hardships. American audiences will be surprised to see healthy and cheerful North Koreans and to hear them stoically admit that food and energy shortages are part of city life.

The film focuses on two delightful North Korean schoolgirls (ages 11 and 14) who are selected to train for the Mass Games and whose lives revolve around a rigorous daily routine to prepare for the Games in hopes that Kim Jong Il (often known as the Dear Leader) will be there to see them perform and know that they are good communists. The shots of the actual Mass Games where 100,000 people participate in an elaborately choreographed exhibition of dazzlingly colorful, perfectly synchronized routines will stay in your mind forever. Needless to say, the Dear Leader never showed up for any of the Games.

Koreans understandably will see this as a sad film and it is. I personally find it tragic, fascinating, thought provoking and invaluable for many reasons. It is my hope that A State of Mind will make Americans more attentive to the existing crisis on the Korean peninsula and the ongoing threat of nuclear war.

Mary Connor, educator and author of "The Koreas: A Global Studies Handbook.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unprecedented glimpse behind the curtain, July 5, 2007
By 
I. Morgan (Washington DC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
A fascinating and often disturbing vision of what the children of North Korea's elite will subject themselves to in order to please their "father", Kim Jong-Il. While I applaud the film-makers for their excellent work, I had to take exception with two points. First, they seem to accept without reservation the idea that the US would seriously consider invading North Korea. Second, their translation tones down the language that is used by their subjects to refer to Americans throughout the film. "Migungnom" is literally "American bastard".
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5.0 out of 5 stars In the Realms of the Unreal, January 4, 2012
By 
This review is from: A State of Mind (DVD)
"A State of Mind" is a fascinating documentary about life in North Korea. It traces the lives of two young female gymnasts on their path to the Mass Games, a "socialist realist extravaganza" in honor of Kim Il-Sung and the recently deceased Kim Jong-Il. With Kim Jong-Il's recent passing, this documentary is even more timely. The girls practice rigorously. They enjoy playing games... they're normal, teenaged girls growing up under abnormal circumstances. They are taught to love&worship Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il;they have been propagandized from their earliest days. When they go to the volcanic mountain that is the legendary birthplace of Kim Jong-Il, they are ecstatic. They speak earnestly of how Americans want to silence their laughter. Since this documentary was made during the early days of the Iraq War, North Korea feared it would be the next to be invaded. They take shelter when sirens sound.

"State of Mind" is set in the relative bubble of Pyongyang, the home of the elite. Yet North Koreans must have special permits to leave their towns. They can't travel freely. A sojourn at a communal farm hints towards the real problems in the countryside. North Korea preaches self-reliance... yet it is highly dependent on foreign food aid. Even the elite in Pyongyang deal with power shortages&rationing (six eggs and one chicken per month)

"State of Mind" is a heartbreaking documentary as well. The beauty of the Mass Games is a facade covering North Korea's all-too-real misery. The teenaged girls have no idea that neither Kim is God. It sets the stage for mass disillusionment. The countryside outside Pyongyang is bleak. The labor camps are conveniently hidden from view. The splendor of the Mass Games is like a mirage in the desert... and mirages are illusions.
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A State of Mind
A State of Mind by Daniel Gordon (DVD - 2006)
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