Date Showing Showing On 10, 12, 13 June
Time Showing Monday 6pm, Wednesday 4pm and Thursday 6pm


M 1hrs 55mins
documentary | 2023, USA | Korean, English

A courageous pastor uses his underground network to rescue and aid North Korean families as they risk their lives to embrace freedom.


Mature themes and violence

Madeleine Gavin
Original Review
Nicolas Rapold, Sight and Sound
Extracted By
Thomas Butler
Hyeonseo Lee, Sung-eun Kim, Lee So-yeon

Watch The Trailer

Beyond Utopia - Official Trailer

Storyline (warning: spoilers)

It’s one thing to read about North Korea’s brutal, isolated dictatorship, and quite another to watch the terrifying journeys of those trying to flee its clutches. That’s just what Madeleine Gavin’s overwhelming documentary Beyond Utopia does in showing one family’s nerve-wracking flight from North Korea through China and other countries with the help of South Korean pastor Kim Seungeun, a veteran manager of such efforts. This film also fleshes out life and death in North Korea in harrowing detail, with some clandestine glimpses from within the country, and chronicles one more escape through the latter’s desperate phone calls with fixers.
Documentaries about North Korea sometimes fall into simply gawking at the bizarro world of living under its propagandistic totalitarian regime. Gavin’s use of survivors giving first-hand accounts and of (some) secret footage of torture or extreme poverty within the country helps stave off this kind of rubbernecking, though some facts of North Korean existence – such as the mandatory submission of household faeces to the government for use as fertiliser – still feel so extreme as to trigger our sense of the absurd.
The family’s trip is a profound profile in courage, with both exhaustion and fortitude written on their faces – father, mother, two young daughters, and an unstoppable 80-year-old grandmother. That thread of the film bears comparison to recent documentaries about Syrian refugees, where the risks feel inscribed in the camerawork. (Part of our access appears to come from self-chronicling by the family or the pastor.) The activist coping with her son’s escape from afar is a source of anguish, and the fact that we hear only the voices of fixers, who may or may not be on the level, underlines her horror and helplessness.
These are hard but necessary stories to hear. The film’s editorial scheme can feel almost assaultive, allowing little to no breathing room or flow as it cuts among the journeys, talking-head interviews, glimpses of North Korea, and so on.

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