A Film a Week - Liberation Day

Unlikely as it might seem, Laibach and North Korea are match made in heaven. Slovenian band was the first musical act from the West to perform in Pyongyang, mildly (or not so mildly) shocking both Western and Korean audiences on national holiday, the titular Liberation Day. The “pitch” to the Koreans was the idea that their country is being misunderstood (with the label of heavily militarized communist despotism) just like Laibach, a conceptual act which toying with different iconographies of dictatorship while having to deal with label “fascist”.

The man who made this strange cultural exchange happen was Morten Traavik, the Norwegian theatre director and provocateur who had previously dealt with both Laibach (he did a music video for them) and the North Koreans (he organized a tour for their national military choir in Norway, which was considered scandalous even in that open-minded Scandinavian country). He directed the show for which the audience reacted with genuine confusion and, with the help of the editor Ugis Olte, the documentary about the whole ordeal.

Just imagine the level of mistrust and miscommunication between the two worlds, one of them being extremely paranoid with all the “aparatchiks”, spies, secretaries, committee members and whatnot hanging around the band during the show preparations, trying to censor the whole thing (and usually succeeding). Laibach members, technicians and the whole entourage around them are not helping either: the frontman Milan Fras keeps wearing his “Nazi” hat even during the official photo-shooting, and the main ideologist Ivan “Jani” Novak almost caused the catastrophic incident by simply going for a walk, against the advise.

Naturally, the concert was also a strange compromise. First of all, the equipment in the hall is from the middle of last century. Also the music and the concept of Laibach is strange and even disturbing in the context of humourless North Korean society, so lots of last minute changes were being made, usually the things like projected videos and similar stuff. Maybe the craziest of all fuck-ups was the issue of the dialect: for one song, the band has translated some verses from German to Korean, but their pronunciation sounded suspiciously “southern”.

But the concert actually happened, and everybody involved was, well... satisfied. So, how about the audiences? In Slovenia at least, where the whole tour was covered in daily papers, an issue popped up just after the premiere: according to some critics, the film is neither about Laibach nor North Korea, but about Traavik himself, making it a publicity stunt. They have actually missed the point by a mile. It might not be about Laibach and Traavik might have made himself more important, but it definitely is about the parallel universe of North Korea. And in that universe every team has its leader, the one who is responsible. In the case of this particular show, that person was Traavik and it just shows how well he got the point about the North Korean culture. If it is not a shiny example of cultural exchange, I really do not know what would it be...

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