Beyond Utopia (2023)

October 15th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Madeleine Gavin | US Doc 115′

This electrifying new documentary about North Korea focuses on those trying to escape the brutal regime, and won this year’s Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. 

Filmmaker Madeleine Gavin shows how South Korean pastor Kim Seungeun has dedicated much of his life to assisting the perilous flight of many from North Korea and onwards to safety through China, often with the help of fixers. And we witness frenzied footage of one family’s courageous escape through the voyeuristic camerawork of Taylor Krauss and Lisa Rinzler.

North Korea is certainly a weird and wicked totalitarian regime that represses its citizens with torture, a spartan lifestyle and the bizarre practice of forcing them to commit their personal solid waste to government centres to be used as fertiliser.

Beyond Utopia is not an easy film to watch but it’s certainly worthwhile. Crucially, these are real situations involving real people who risk the indignities of capture, torture and even execution if they are caught defecting. And that mere fact alone certainly concentrates the tension.

Fortunately there is a positive outcome for one family but Beyond Utopia often feels terrifyingly intense as it flips between fraught interviews with those concerned, and actual footage of their flight and the aftermath. The lucky escapees soon reflect on how wrong they were to believe that North Korea could ever be a paradise. MT

BEYOND UTOPIA is out in UK cinemas 24 October 2023


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