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Kim Il-sung, the Dear Leader's father and political predecessor, introduced the concept of Juche in late 1955 as he was formulating his own reaction to the wide sweeping reforms and associated de-Stalinization being then carried out in Soviet Russia. The concept was later championed and expanded on by son Kim Jong-Il, who in 1982 wrote On the Juche Idea, the authoritative document on the concept that came, 10 years later, to succeed Marxism-Leninism as North Korea's official state ideology. The pillars of the concept are an insistence on economic and military self-sufficiency (as opposed to the internationalism at the center of most socialist programs), an aggregate people's independence in thought and politics, a context-specific revolutionary process and the importance of a thoroughly communist and cooperative populace. These ambitious designs are of course not the lived reality of most North Koreans, who often face food shortages and rely on vital foreign aid from China and others, not to mention endure rather severe restrictions on individual political and economic freedom. And yet there remains something vaguely seductive in this Juche idea, something perhaps echoing the hopes of a non-aligned movement, a national attempt, however flawed, to swim out of the riptides of the Cold War, out of the very riptides of history. The Juche Idea is also the title of filmmaker Jim Finn's latest major work, which delves into the isolationist state's rich history of state-sponsored and propagandist filmmaking (in the 1970s, Kim Jong published a treatise on cinema) and comes out with what appears to be a suite of shorter films strung along a playful meta-narrative of a South Korean video artist making work on a special North Korean residency program. Unlike so many contemporary artists who show nothing but naked contempt for such difficult topics, Finn approaches his with a unique humor and wit. He uses the vehicle of this fanciful conceit to deliver a polyvalent and aesthetically strong critique of capitalism and the nature of modern power.
The Juche Idea will play at Anthology Film archives early next week on Monday, 9 February at 7:30.
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