marc wiese

TIFF '12 Interview: Marc Wiese on the Unbelievable Story and Subjects of "Camp 14: Total Control Zone"

There are plenty of times when I draw a blank with interview questions, but it’s usually in the case of films I don’t like or those that are just so-so. This time it was different. After watching the partly animated documentary Camp 14: Total Control Zone I was totally speechless. I wrote a lot of notes about the film down, and I’ve been able to spread word of endorsement, but in terms of what to ask director Marc Wiese, it took me longer than normal.

Basically, the film blew my mind with its unbelievable story of Shin Dong-Huyk, a young man who escaped from a North Korean labor camp. Interviews with Shin and two former guards from the camp also spotlight some of the most incredible, complicated and absorbing subjects I’ve seen in a film in a long time. So I started rather simply, with the easiest question there is, and fortunately the conversation grew out enough from there (including some stuff potentially deemed spoilers). Read our talk in full below, and see this film if it (hopefully) gets a distribution deal.

DOC Channel Blog: How did you come across this story?

Marc Wiese: I was shooting another documentary in Washington, and I just saw, by chance, a little article about Shin in the Washington Post. I read that this guy was born and raised up in this concentration camp and that he had no idea that the world beyond the fence is different, and I knew in ten seconds that I want to tell this story. Just to compare, if you take guys like, for example, Nelson Mandela, he stayed 25 years in jail, but he had a life before jail. So he had an idea of freedom. He had an idea to wish for freedom, to receive freedom back. Shin never had a chance to even develop an idea of freedom or wish for that.

I phoned a friend living in Seoul, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, and I said, “Come on, I want to find this guy. I want to meet him.” He arranged it, and I flew to Seoul and met Shin for the first time in 2008. In the beginning, Shin was totally traumatized. He couldn’t look at me more than five seconds. He was always looking down, and after half an hour he said, “I have too much of a headache. I have to leave.” In the end, we made the film together over a period of two years.

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