Two years ago, I wrote about of a pair of British filmmakers who won a competition to make Embracing Kim, a mockumentary about North Korea. Recently, I wondered what had become of the project.
Ted Wilkes (pictured, below) began by telling me about a clever stunt devised in the months following his and Chris Richards‘ big June 2012 cash prize.
“I tried, and failed, to hoof a soccer ball over the back wall of the North Korean embassy to the United Kingdom on Gunnersbury Avenue in London in an attempt to gain myself a meeting with Kim Jong-un, then the new leader of the DPRK,” Wilkes explains. “In the same way that I was able when younger to pop around and retrieve the ball when it went into a neighbor’s garden, I was hoping in this case as well that I’d be able to pop round and they’d let me retrieve it.”
“Unfortunately, my attempt at amateur diplomacy didn’t work that day and I had to head back to Bristol minus one soccer ball. Surprisingly, they didn’t even come to the door when I knocked on it. Rude!”
Nevertheless, Wilkes and Richards spent a year going back and forth with their production patrons, tweaking the treatment.
“I’m pretty sure they thought we were crazy,” Wilkes says. “Two guys from England who insisted that a project of this scale was not only plausible, but would also be entertaining.”
“We were really influenced by projects such as Morgan Spurlock’s Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden and had some mad ideas like attending cuddle workshops, going to hostage survival training and even trying to meet some of Kim’s old school friends in Switzerland,” he adds. “The idea was that we would slowly get closer and closer to getting into North Korea through the six degrees of separation idea.”
“I toyed around with this idea of a pro-DPRK activist as a character whose sole mission in life was to meet his idol (the newly appointed despot leader Kim Jong-un) and who would defend the country at all costs. He’d seemingly be the only Westerner in the world who had brought into the regime’s propaganda. However, I wanted the project to be a little deeper, really looking into what freedom means and analyzing if we actually are as free in the West as we like to think.”
Wilkes and Richards traveled once to Ireland and several times to London for meetings. Then, suddenly, Portuguese production company BeActive told them that the project was being shelved.
The pair have moved on to other projects, including Between Lambs and Lions. Now in post-production, the film stars Paterson Joseph (Law & Order UK, The Beach) and Finbar Lynch (Game of Thrones). Ultimately, confides Wilkes, the bitterest, briefest pill involved someone they never could have expected.
“Obviously, when we first heard about Dennis Rodman heading over to the DPRK to do the same thing that we were going to do, we were gutted,” he says. “However, we realized that it meant that the idea that we had was good enough that someone else had come up with something similar. It’s only made us realize that some of the stuff that we cook up has potential.”