The Korea Herald


NK rights campaign film getting global release

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 27, 2016 - 19:14

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An expat-made documentary on campaigners for North Korean human rights has arranged distribution for release in more than 100 countries this fall.

“While They Watched” won awards at over 12 international festivals and was listed as one of the “12 Documentaries You Cannot Miss” at the Human Rights Dignity Festival hosted by Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.

“I feel honored that audiences can watch our film and people of such influence are aware of it,” said director Jake Smith.

“Hopefully it will help create momentum to change the situation in North Korea and China. We’ve, so far, had very positive reviews online and support from NGOs and the media.”

The film follows three main campaigners -- Justice for North Korea founder Peter Jung; Park San Hak, who organizes balloon launches carrying anti-regime leaflets into the North; and Park Yeon-mi, who the film shows preparing for a high-profile speech at the One Young World Summit in Ireland in 2014.

“The documentary contains many stories and themes. People tell us we packed a lot into it.

“It was a challenge to make the film cohesive whilst switching between narratives, comment, history and personal stories,” said Smith.

“I wouldn’t change the story and film we made, yet there are always areas to improve on with most projects. In this case there are areas I would have liked to look at more closely, but (that) wasn’t possible in a single-feature format.”

Smith said there was a campaign running with the film that people could join in different ways, with information available at the film’s website.

“We have a special screening at the Houses of Parliament in London for their select committee. I hope some momentum is generated there,” he added.

He hopes this might prompt some in the UK to act, such as by putting more pressure on China, which refuses to accept or allow passage of North Korean refugees.

“I was disappointed with the UK government’s lack of voice on human rights matters when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the UK in October 2015,” Smith said.

“It was a perfect opportunity to ask the president to adhere to international human rights laws as a prerequisite to doing business with the UK.”

The film is being released in over 100 countries and has been translated into 13 languages. It will be available via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Microsoft, with release dates staggered over September and October.

But perhaps surprisingly, Smith said there was no distribution of the film yet in South Korea. He said some people have suggested that it may be down to government objections to the content.

“It is difficult to know why this is. We think it is extremely important that the Korean people see the film, so are still looking for partners to help us do that.”

The film was produced by Tusko Films, Sliced Pictures and Square Eyed Pictures and can be preordered via

By Paul Kerry (