Flickers Around the World

A Kimchi researcher is not a laughing matter.‘Flickers’ is actually an old term for the movies, and it’s somewhat apropos to the four film exhibitors in Uli Gaulke’s 2006 documentary, Comrades in Dreams (Pathfinder Pictures), whose sense of showmanship and entrepreneurial spirit harken back to the Golden and Silver Age of movie distribution.

A production of Germany’s ZDF, Comrades has intertwined snippets of the personal lives and professional struggles of three friends getting their open air cinema off the ground in Africa; a young entrepreneur’s travelling tent cinema in India; a single screen cinema in America’s Midwest; and a movie house in North Korea.

Each segment has its own merits, but it’s undoubtedly the last one that’s the most fascinating because so little of North Korea is known beyond the sometimes monthly saber-rattling that has newscasts reporting of nuclear threats from the country’s totalitarian regime.

In each case, Gaulke just follows her subjects and captures their reactions with colleagues, family, and film patrons, and there’s never a moment where one sees a hand or hears an off-screen voice of the filmmakers prodding their subjects for details.

That’s particularly important with the North Korean segments, because regardless of the genuinely warm personalities, the country’s politics do materialize, and one gets a sense of how politics and the cult of the two Kims – the country’s elder founder, and the goofy son that’s now in charge – have affected ordinary lives.

Some may wish Gaulke had concentrated solely on her North Korean subjects, but there were probably two reasons that location was chosen: it offered a glimpse into a little-seen society, and the political extremes fitted well with the other subjects – exhibitors trying to entertain people in dry regions, hot climates, and similarly tight-knitted communities.

Unlike the fantasy world of Cinema Paradiso (1988) and the slapstick hijinks of The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), Comrades in Dreams is a realist drama – actually four dramas – and Gaulke’s little gem shouldn’t be overlooked.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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