The ironically titled documentary The Happiest People on Earth is an enlightening journey into one of the world's most contentious and controversial countries: North Korea. The cameras capture one of the few times each year that foreign guests are permitted inside the gates of this isolated land - the birthday celebrations for supreme Ieaders Kim Jong-il and Kim II-sung - and expose a culture marked by strict discipline and incessant hero worship.
In the eyes of each figure profiled in the film, Kim Jong-un and his immediate predecessors are deities. In their view, these fearless leaders fostered an environment of economic growth, unprecedented opportunity, and strength and prominence on the global stage. They speak of them in hushed, reverent tones.
This unfaltering allegiance to power is evident in the painstaking birthday festivity preparations, and in the working classes that slave every day in desperation to serve their Great Marshall. A young mother recalls the monumental moment when Kim Jong-un visited her textile mill, a rare occasion which is memorialized by a large engraved marking. Female military members run drills throughout the day in anticipation for a war with America they believe to be imminent. A male chorus rehearses a song of worship for their dictator. As one chorus member expresses, their leaders have made North Korea the greatest country on Earth, and anyone who believes otherwise should be considered an enemy.
These sentiments are cult-like in nature, and are ingrained from an early age. Children as young as six months of age are sent to live in schools for six full days every week. There, they are successfully indoctrinated into a mindset of blind obedience. Adults also live with the absence of dissenting opinions as government sanctioned media and internet faculties keep them sheltered from the outside world.
But the outside world is watching them, and continues to grow more fearful of North Korea's increasingly unpredictable and treacherous regime. The Happiest People on Earth places us inside the living rooms and work places of the country's everyday citizens, and their perspectives deepen our understanding of North Korea's limitations, ambitions and uniquely frightening way of life.
Directed by: Natalya Kadyrova