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Beyond Utopia

Directed by Madeleine Gavin
Produced by Rachel Cohen, Jana Edelbaum, and Sue Mi Terry
With: Barbara Demick, Sung-eun Kim, Hyeonseo Lee, and Lee So-yeon
Cinematography: Hyun Seok Kim
Editing: Madeleine Gavin
Music: Taylor Page and Adam Taylor
Runtime: 115 min
Release Date: 28 November 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

In the tradition of Midnight Traveler and Welcome to Chechnia, Madeleine Gavin's documentary about South Korean human rights activist Pastor Seungeun Kim, who has devoted much of his life to helping North Korean defectors escape their brutal regime, features gripping footage taken by the escapees during their harrowing journey. Unlike those films, Beyond Utopia also features a spectacularly simplistic overview of the history of North and South Korea told from a distinctly Western and Christian perspective that ignores America's role in the creation of this bifurcated region. I was not surprised when the end credits rolled to see that Gavin was both the director and the editor of the picture. It shows. And I don't know what to make of the fact that one of the film's main producers, Sue Mi Terry, is a former CIA intelligence analyst specializing in East Asia. Does this make the film more informed or more dubious?

I don't want to discount the vital work done by people like Pastor Seungeun Kim or by those who expose the atrocities taking place North of the 38th Parallel. But this rushed yet over-long, redundant yet deficient, anti-propaganda work of agitprop would have benefited dramatically from the perspective of a strong and insightful editor. I'm surprised Gavin, who spent most of her career as an editor of documentaries and features, wouldn't feel the same.

Twitter Capsule:

Madeleine Gavin's documentary about the harrowing journey of North Korean defectors would have benefited dramatically from an insightful editor and producers less interested in presenting such a simplistic and revisionist view of history.