2016 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT

lovers and the despotRounding out today’s Sundance doc preview: From the UK, THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT, Robert Cannan and Ross Adam’s tale of cinephilia crossed with totalitarianism.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

They were the Brangelina of ’70s South Korea – the romance between the debonair film director Shin Sang-ok and glamorous actress Choi Eun-hee took them to the heights of South Korean society. Fame took a toll on their love, but it also attracted unbelievable twists of fate. The two find themselves kidnapped by the North Korean regime, and they are forced to play along with a bizarre filmmaking project led by superfan cinephile Kim Jong-il. Enduring torture, imprisonment, and surveillance, their romance is rekindled, and they realize escape is only possible through filmmaking – but the smallest mistake in their plans could cost them their lives.

This film noir of the most twisted order is meticulously crafted with an analog-loving sensibility, offering incredible archive footage of the era that even includes rare clandestine audio recordings of Jong-il discussing his plot for a cinematic paradise. The tapes deliver a chilling yet fascinating glimpse into the psychology of the North Korean dictatorship and what happens when art, love, and megalomania collide.

Some Background:
Directors: Robert Cannan and Ross Adam
Adam makes his feature directorial debut following work in music videos, installation, commercials, and photography, while this is Cannan’s sophomore effort after 2008’s THREE MILES NORTH OF MOLKOM (IDFA, Hot Docs). Cannan also previously associate produced the Sundance alum GHOSTS (2007). This project has been supported by the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.

Producer: Natasha Dack-Ojumu
Tigerlily Productions’ Dack-Ojumu is a BAFTA-nominated producer whose recent nonfiction work includes MCCULLIN (Hot Docs) and 37 USES FOR A DEAD SHEEP (Berlin).

Editor: Jim Hession
Hession has previously cut Sundance alums RICH HILL (2014) and MARINA ABRAMOVIC THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2012).

Why You Should Watch:
Cannan and Adam have crafted a compelling film from a true story that seems so fantastical and unlikely that its participants knew they’d have to make secret recordings to be believed. This archival audio offers a first-hand experience of the protagonists’ complicated relationship with the enigmatic Kim Jong-il and his aspirations for North Korea’s film industry, while present-day interviews recount the strange, sometimes contradictory, realities of life and work as kidnapped filmmaking royalty.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.

Presently, the film does not have a website, Facebook page, or trailer. Should this change before the festival kicks off, I’ll update that information here.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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