Human rights organizations say tens of thousands of North Koreans live in forced labor camps for political reeducation, where torture, starvation, and illness are commonplace. North Korean defectors say entire families are sent to the camps for tiny crimes such as humming a South Korean pop song.
Now, a new film is bringing the stories of North Koreans who have escaped such camps to the screen.
“Kimjongilia” aims to introduce a global audience to the stories of real North Koreans who were brutally punished in labor camps before escaping their country. In the film, a man says, "I was hung upside down for 14 hours and beaten." "We never knew when we'd get beaten. There was constant fear."
Director Nancy Heikin says she has wanted to make the film for years, to express her outrage at what she calls North Korea's "concentration camps." All of the North Korean defectors featured in “Kimjongilia” now live in South Korea. Most made a dangerous and illegal journey into China first. Their personal stories of sex trafficking, torture, and the death of loved ones weave a dark backdrop for North Korea's utopian self-imagery.