I Am Sun Mu

The life and work of North Korean defector turned political pop artist

I Am Sun Mu Sun Mu, a senior North Korean propaganda artist, escapes to the South and now uses his talent to make fun of the Supreme Leader through satirical political pop art. Offered a high profile solo exhibition in China, he could never have expected the hostility he would attract from the authorities. As he puts his exhibition together the forces against him grow. A tense narrative coupled with powerful imagery defines this unusual documentary.
"It all happened very suddenly." A crowd of bystanders gather in the closed-off streets that surround an art gallery encircled by police cars, anxious to understand what the commotion is. Behind the gallery walls lies the first ever solo exhibition of propaganda-artist-turned-defector Sun Mu, who has fled from North Korea to Beijing in search of refuge.

As a young child growing up in North Korea, Sun Mu always had a burning desire to represent the unrepresentable. Artistically influenced not by other painters but instead by dictators, Sun Mu recalls locking himself in his room to paint a picture of Kim Il Sung. "Before it was even dry, I burned it."

Years later, Sun Mu's satirical political pop art has admirers, and when he is offered his first solo exhibition in Beijing he knows that he is dancing with the devil. His provocative work is sure to stir conflict with the authorities who are nervous of upsetting their sensitive North Korean neighbours.

As he looks over a painting of Kim Jong Il stood proudly in front of an upside down flag - a bold and blatant reference to a backwards nation - he remembers how his hands trembled as he painted: "I always had a fear that someone might sneak up behind me and stab me." Sun Mu's anxious wife, on the other hand, is kept awake at night by the fear of the family being taken hostage.

As the opening day of Sun Mu's exhibition finally arrives, police and government officials turn up at the gallery in search of the man behind the paintings, ready to interrogate…

The film is a powerful portrayal of a man who searches for freedom while concealing his own identity in the face of an oppressive political regime.

Laurel Official Selection, IDFA 2015
Laurel Official Selection, Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2015

The Producers

Adam Sjoberg (Director), founder of LOOSE LUGGAGE MEDIA, is a documentary filmmaker whose work has taken him to over 60 countries. His recent film, “Shake the Dust,” was a collaboration with hip-hop superstar Nasir “Nas” Jones - an epic global film about the power and dignity of youth in the slums that are using breaking and hip-hop to change their world. This is his second feature film.

Mariana Blanco (Editor, Co-Producer), is an editor, cinematographer, and filmmaker. She has worked on dozens of projects on a broad range of subject matter from music, to sports, to geo-political issues and war. Most recently she worked on “Shake the Dust,” “The Barkley Marathons,” and ESPN’s 9 for IX shorts.

Making The Film

Adam Sjöberg met Sun Mu in the winter of 2012 while working on a short film collaboration with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization that helps repatriate North Korean defectors. LiNK had been supporting and partnering with Sun Mu for a number of years and was interested in finding a documentary filmmaker whom Sun Mu could entrust to tell his story.

After getting to know each other, Sun Mu grew to trust Adam and believed in his vision for telling his story. The two collaborated through every part of production: Sun Mu created many of the cells for the animation and even filmed much of the documentary himself.

It was in the spring of 2014 that Sjöberg found a “hook” to peg the film’s narrative on: Sun Mu was offered an exclusive, rare solo exhibition at a large gallery in Beijing. He would be the first North Korean artist to have such an exhibit in China without the oversight of the DPRK.

Production began in March of that year and continued for about a year – with Sun Mu’s momentous and harrowing exhibit in July of 2014. Sjoberg’s team included Mariana Blanco as editor and associate producer, long-time collaborator Ryan Wehner handling animation, and Joel P. West composing the moving score for the film.

Post-production wrapped in September of 2015 and “I Am Sun Mu” had its World Premiere as the opening film at DMZ Docs film festival at Camp Greaves in the special zone just outside of the DMZ (and only miles from North Korea).

Sun Mu's Paintings:

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