Rory Peck Awards 2014 Features Finalist: Team Mindeulle

Team Mindeulle have been nominated for Life Inside the Secret State, a revealing look at North Korea

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The Independent Online

The Rory Peck Awards celebrate the dangerous and invaluable work of freelancers around the world. This year's event will be hosted on November 19 at the BFI Southbank. To find out more click here.

Team Mindeulle are a group of six undercover freelance cameramen from North Korea, who risk their lives to film daily life inside their country. The team are trained during trips to China by Japanese journalist, Jiro Ishimaru. Life inside the Secret State was executive produced by David Henshaw of Hard Cash Productions.

From David Henshaw:

"Fifteen years ago, Dorothy Byrne at Channel 4 asked me to find a way of telling a story about what was really going on in North Korea.  We knew there was a famine and that thousands had died of starvation, but we had no pictures, no hard evidence of the reality of life in the secret state.

All that changed the moment I came across a vivid still frame from a film secretly shot inside North Korea.  A haunting image of a small child, an orphan, just skin and bone, clutching a kind of makeshift cape, clearly terribly malnourished and begging in the rain.  It turned out that the child – one of many terrible individual stories of the famine – had been covertly filmed by a cameraman called Ahn Chol, an act of extraordinary bravery.  But Ahn Chol was not working on his own.  I found out that he had been trained and supported by a remarkable Japanese journalist, Jiro Ishimaru, one of a collective of human rights reporters, Asia Press, based in Osaka.

Since that discovery, we have made three films with Jiro – all of which have been based around secret footage shot inside NK by what has become an extended team of film makers and journalists.  Ahn Chol won the the Rory Peck Award for Features back in 2001, and somehow (he never told me how) Jiro managed to get both the award and the cash that went with it across the Tumen river and into the hands of the winner.  Its a lovely thought that somewhere in a run down town near the Chinese border, this emblem of subversive journalism remains hidden away from a regime that would immediately and publicly execute its holder.

By last year, when we made the C4 film ‘North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State’, Jiro’s team had extended to a team of six.  The team chose the name ‘Mindeulle’ – which means ‘dandelion’ in English – and is effectively led by two senior film-makers, Kim Dong-Cheul and Lee Hoon.  Kim has been filming undercover for Jiro for five years now, and his work includes interviews with starving soldiers, homeless orphans, and the running of free market illicit bus services.  In our latest film, Kim captured on film an astonishing row between a woman running such a bus service who refuses to bribe an angry NK soldier – and gets away with it.

Kim and Lee’s latest work includes further compelling evidence of dissent – with one disgruntled senior official openly describing Kim Jong Un as “hopeless”. 

This kind of film making is courageous beyond belief.  But, as Kim tells Jiro Ishimaru, he feels he has no option.

‘This is dangerous and if I get caught, I know I’d immediately be executed by firing squad as a ‘traitor to the Korean people’. But I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do this no matter what. I’m just one person, even if I have to sacrifice my life someday something is going to change.’"