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Documentary spotlights Korean gymnastics

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A captivated audience of about 30 attentively watched the screen in the large classroom setting to view the documentary, “A State of Mind” by British filmmaker Daniel Gordon.

Pomona College featured the documentary on March 21 along with other documentaries as part of the Korean Film Festival.

“A State of Mind,” followed two North Korean school girls for a period of nine months, providing an inside look to three generations of North Koreans.

The school girls, 13-year-old Pak Hyon Sun and 11-year-old Kim Song Yun, were gymnasts.

The events shown with these girls lead up to the Mass Games, a synchronized and choreographed gymnastics event that involves a cast of thousands of people.

It is the celebration and pride of the formation of the Democratic Republic of Korea.

“The film was a window to North Korea,” said Paul Yi, curator for the film festival. “It is the first time we see the daily life for a North Korean family.”

The country follows its own communist ideals and a strict philosophy known as the Juche Idea, which is the idea of self-reliance.

Its beliefs also surround the worship of the Kim dynasty.

This includes Kim Il Sung, its everlasting president who died in 1994 but remains head of state and is honored on his birthday, and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, the general.

The young participants involved in the Mass Games are required to train months ahead as well as for more than four hours a day.

They put pressure on themselves to do their best and achieve perfection in everything they do so they can impress the general.

The only days that they have off are the birthdays of Kim Il Sung on Feb. 16 and Kim Jong Il on April 15.

Two-day celebrations of rest are held in honor of their political leaders.

“I was impressed with the choreography with the people that were part of the Mass Games,” said Jerry Vorrhis, a Claremont resident.

The younger generation of North Korea has the pressures to impress their ancestors and show their dedication to their country and beliefs.

The one way to do that is through the Mass Games where they perform in front of more than one million people, using murals and photos to depict their country’s greatest achievements.

“I was surprised with the condition that these young people live in,” said Kayo Yoshikawa, office assistant at the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College. “I was also surprised of what they have been taught, especially to glorify their General.”

The documentary was very effective in illustrating how North Korean families live.”A State of Mind” is Gordon’s follow-up documentary of the film, “The Game of Their Lives,” also relating to the culture of North Korea.

His documentaries have shown more of North Korea than anything produced to date in Western media.

Gordon is currently working on his third documentary, “Crossing the Line,” the story of four U.S. soldiers in the 1960s who defected to North Korea.

This is not the first time that Pomona College has held a film festival.

Lucy Chang, program manager of the Pacific Basin Institute said that Pomona College has an annual film festival that usually occurs in the spring.

In the past, they have had films relating to other Asian countries including China and Japan.

They have also featured Mexican films.

“I thought it was true to history,” Vorrhis said. “The documentary showed what the U.S. did to North Korea – what we committed.

“I liked that it said the truth that America lost in the Korean War,” he added. “I was impressed with the discipline of North Korea; you can’t find discipline like that anywhere else.”

Jaclyn Gonzales can be reached at

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