With relations between North Korea and the West in the spotlight, National Geographic is launching a series looking at the ruling Kim family, which has controlled the secretive East Asian state for three generations.
U.K.-based 72 Films is producing the four-part factual series, titled “Inside North Korea’s Dynasty,” which has been a year in the making. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, the directors of acclaimed Nat Geo documentary “LA 92” on the L.A. riots, were consultants on the series.
The meeting in June between current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump made global headlines. “Inside North Korea’s Dynasty” goes further back to tell the story of Kim’s predecessors: his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather and the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. The Kims have ruled the country for more than 70 years. Using secret audio recordings from inside North Korea, as well as firsthand testimony and archive footage, the producers will look at the complex family dynamics and its dark and surreal story.
David Glover and Mark Raphael of 72 Films, which is backed by BBC Studios, exec-produced the series. “We were talking to National Geographic about how a family dynasty can be an interesting way into something that would normally feel quite current affairs or newsy, and as a way of shedding light and giving extra understanding to viewers,” Glover told Variety. “It’s less geopolitical and more the inside track on how this country works.”
He said that looking at the ruling dynasty over time, from Kim Il-sung’s brinkmanship with the U.S. over nuclear weapons to the regime’s view on events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, adds context to current events.
Back-to-back episodes of “Inside North Korea’s Dynasty” will air on consecutive Sunday nights in the U.S., starting Nov. 11. Internationally, it will play on the Nat Geo channel in more than 170 countries. For Nat Geo, it will be a return to North Korea after the recent acquisition of “North Korea From the Inside With Michael Palin.”
In the new series, retired U.S. Col. Victor Vierra, who was stationed at the Demilitarized Zone in 1976 when two U.S. army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers, gives his first television interview. Other contributors include Ko Young-hwan, an interpreter for Kim Il-sung, and Kim Hyun-hui, a former North Korean spy and the bomber of Korean Airline Flight 858. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is also interviewed at length about his unusual relationship with North Korea and its leaders.
Film footage used includes excerpts from Swedish film “One for All, All for One”; Czech film “Fighting Korea,” about the Korean War; and French film “The Hermit Kingdom,” about North Korean life in the 1970s. Archive interviews include ones with Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, which has never been seen outside of Asia, and Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, which has never been seen on English-language television.
“Our historical angle, looking through the family tree, allowed us to find archive that was more filmic and more revealing than you otherwise might imagine existed,” Raphael said.