Morten Traavik’s Liberation Day, a documentary about North Korea’s first ever rock concert, screens at Films from the South.
There are certain expectations surrounding Liberation Day, where Traavik not only stages the first ever rock concert in North Korea; also, the two film teams he brought with him were allowed to work unhindered by the all-pervading North Korean censorship through a whole week of tension and sabre-rattling in both the rehearsal venue and the geopolitical arena. The chosen occasion, or perhaps pretext, for the concerts was the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day, the end of Imperial Japan´s occupation of Korea. However, for Koreans this “liberation” also signifies a division of the Korean peninsula into two rivalling states, a Soviet-friendly north and a US-supported south, which persists to this day and shows no signs of abating.
PROVOCATEUR AND CULTURAL ACTIVIST
Multiartist Morten Traavik is both renowned and controversial, among other things labelled as «a prime example of the artist as provocateur and cultural activist». In recent years, he has sparked both national and international debate with a series of groundbreaking art projects in close collaboration with North Korea’s highly secretive communist regime. Traavik does little to hide his fascination of and inspiration from the aesthetics of totalitarian art.
In Liberation Day, co-directed with Uġis Olte, Traavik perhaps goes further than ever in questioning conventional wisdom and media sterotypes. The film documents a seriously intense week in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, after Traavik successfully has persuaded the authorities of this authoritarian system to host the first rock concert in North Korean history. His rather eyebrow-raising choice of performers is his old heroes of the avant-garde industrial-art-rockers collective Laibach.
- How did the band react when you initially mentioned the idea?
- After I directed «The Whistleblowers», the first video from Laibachs comeback album in 2014, both sides wanted to work together again, and since I had had this North Korean thing going on, the combination was simply too obvious to resist, at the very least, a serious try. Few bands have like Laibach fortified, or perhaps rather exposed, the pretty obvious similarities in the relations between rockstars and their fans on one side, and dictators and their subjects on the other. The only, and not inconsiderable, doubts the band expressed was whether such an undertaking would be possible at all. Needless to say, they were not alone in those concers...
- Both the film and the concerts themselves might invite criticism that cuts both ways: people outside of North Korea might say you’re pandering to a dictatorial and brutal regime, while North Koreans might think you’re making fun of them with this kind of music and stage performance. What are your thoughts on this?
- To quote a respected colleague from the big screen: «Why so serious?…»*
LAIBACH COMES TO OSLO
- Why did you choose Films from the South Festival for the Norwegian premiere, and do you plan to bring some guests associated with the project?
- Pure karma. The festival got in touch earlier this summer and asked me to participate in this year’s North Korea side program as a speaker and panelist. At that time, the film was nearly completed, and luckily we hadn’t made any binding agreements with Norwegian film festivals yet. Obviously,
Films from the South with its bold and innovative focus on North Korea, seems a perfect context for our Norwegian premier. As the legendary Hollywood producer Bob Evans so wisely put it;
«Luck is when chance meets preparation». Of course, Laibach will be represented, then we’ll see if I can entice North Korea’s Nordic ambassador into coming over from Stockholm too.
- What kind of reactions do you expect from the Norwegian audience?
- I’d rather say «hope» than «expect». First and foremost; interest. I guess the film will challenge some perceptions of what North Korea is and what can be achieved there, and probably confirm a couple of others. But most of all, I hope Liberation Day will be perceived as a film about music, staged reality, myths, pop and propaganda, where Korea is more the location than the main character. The film title does not only refer to the occasion of the concerts, it also has an invisible question mark and an opening for reflection.
- What’s your main goal with the film?
- World domination, of course! (evil laugh) And, as I say in the film, maybe a little public education. Both ways, naturally.
Morten Traavik is a director of stage art, film and music videos, a conceptual artist, a writer and an actor. In 2008 he made headlines worldwide with «Miss Landmine Angola», a beauty pageant for landmine survivors in the south-western African country. The follow-up Cambodian version a year later was banned at the last minute by its prime minister after pressure from Western aid organisations.
In 2010, he was the first, and to this day the only - Artist-in-Residence of The Norwegian Armed Forces, again stirring up controversy with several of his projects halted by personal intervention from the Chief of Defense.
In 2012, three different secretaries of state, namely Defence, Culture and Foreign Affairs, had to deal with protests from the opposition concerning Traavik’s artistic collaborations with North Korea government, including Norwegian soldiers as human pixels in formations overseen by North Korean mass games instructors and staging a “The 1st Norwegian Festival” on National Day May 17th in Pyongyang along with prominent Norwegian jazz musicians, singers, actors and visual artists. The year after he made his debut as an author with the partially self-biographical The Devil is a Fallen Angel (Aschehoug 2013).
In 2014 he directed «Kardemomyang», a North Korean version of probably Norway’s most beloved Norwegian children´s story (and theatre play) as a modern political parable at the Bergen International Festival, featuring North Korean music students in all major roles. Earlier the same year, he made the music video for «The Whistleblowers», his first collaboration with the Slovenian band Laibach. This work culminated in the already world-famous concert in August 2015, and now the «documentary musical» Liberation Day.
More information at www.liberationday.film