Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: War of Art

Since its foundation in 1948, North Korea has been one of the most secretive and closed countries in the world. Despite myriad attempts to halt the country’s nuclear programs and human rights abuses using pressure, mediation and sanctions, we’re no closer to a thawing in relations. The cult of the leader still holds firm and the Juche ideology of political, economic, and military self-reliance shows no sign of weakening.

In Ugis Olte’s 2016 documentary Liberation Day he documented Morten Traavik’s attempts to increase cultural understanding through music. The Norwegian is back again and this time his olive branch is art. In War of Art, the new film from Tommy Gulliksen, we follow his attempts to establish the DMZ Academy. The first ever contemporary arts symposium and workshop in the DPK, bringing international modern artists together with colleagues from Pyongyang University of Fine Arts.

War of Art is an often humorous and thought-provoking culture clash of identity, mindset and expression. Whilst Traavik attempts to get North Koreans to understand and accept contemporary art which would baffle most Westerners, it soon becomes clear that there’s an almost impenetrable divide. In a wider society which worships a cult-like dynasty to the extent it forms a religion, it’s like comparing apples and pears. Whist for obvious reasons much of War of Art is slightly frustrating, it’s the little glimpses of understanding which make it compelling viewing.

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