Timelapse videos of mega-cities like New York have become something of a viral video cliché in recent years. (If you’re anything like me, you lap them up without shame, all the same). But I bet you’ve never seen the capital of the world’s most reclusive nation, North Korea, quite like this before. The filmmakers—JT Singh and Rob Whitworth—spent six days in Pyongyang filming this video that delivers you right into the very-human nitty gritty of a place that looks far less creepy than those “Mass Games” videos would lead you to believe.
Even so, how much can we rely on this portrait for an accurate take on North Korea as a whole? Not a lot: the capital is home to the ruling elite, and used by the regime as a showcase city; people here are hardly representative. For example, 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from critical food insecurity, relying only on state-rationed food, according to the UN; one out of every three children is too short for his or her age. Hunger, poverty, lack of electricity, brutal repression and political reprisals… you name it: A UN special inquiry recently described North Korea’s human rights violations as without “parallel in the contemporary world.”
It’s also true that the video is effectively an advertisement for a company operating out of Beijing called Koryo Tours, which has run tours into North Korea since 1993; the group covered the filmmakers’ travel expenses. (Full disclosure: I’m pals with Vicky Mohieddeen, who accompanied the film crew, and works for Koryo).
But I think it adds vital perspective to a place shut away from the world by its repressive government. It’s oh-so-interesting taking a look inside.