You’d think it would be hard to shock German filmmaker Marc Wiese.
A documentarian with a mane of long hair and a hard edge to his voice, Wiese specializes in films about the atrocities of war and repression. He is someone who has seen more death and despair than most of us ever will. His latest film, Camp 14 – Total Control Zone, is about Shin Don-Huyk, a young man who was born in a North Korean prison camp and who hardly knew anything about the outside world until he escaped and defected.
In painful interviews, Shin describes a life of extreme brutality. Prisoners at the camps are immediately shot for any infraction, sometimes on the whim of the guards. There is no hope of being set free. Most people are there for the merest perceived lack of respect for the government and authority. The recollections are gruelling for Shin. He has no interest in seeing the finished doc, Wiese says.
And yet there is, for Shin now, but even for the prisoners in the camp, a strong will to live. “There is no logic. Life in the camp is so horrifying that you’d think as an outsider, like you and me, ‘why the hell would they want to survive?’ ” Wiese says. And yet, in the most inhuman conditions, that’s when the will to live remains primordial and unfailing.
But what was one of the things that shocked Wiese in making the film? It was something just simple and small, yet “a metaphor for our modern times,” he says.
One day, he simply clicked on Google Earth, scrolled around North Korea, and immediately he found not only a city near the camp, but the camp itself.
“I could see it! And I checked other camps. They are huge with 20,000 or 40,000 people in them. You can really see it, with an absolute regular personal computer. And I was sitting and I was thinking, How cynical is that? How perverted in a way?... Just imagine in the Second World War if you could see, live, the concentration camps? That’s the reality today.”