Beyond Utopia

A heart-stopping documentary taking us inside North Korea following the people taking the treacherous journey to escape its totalitarian regime

Film Review by Ross McIndoe | 24 Oct 2023
  • Beyond Utopia
Film title: Beyond Utopia
Director: Madeleine Gavin
Starring: Pastor Seungeun Kim, Soyeon Lee, Hyuchang Wu
Release date: 27 Oct
Certificate: 15

Beyond Utopia tells the story of Seungeun Kim, a pastor who has dedicated his life to helping people escape from North Korea. Using a network of contacts along the Chinese-Korean border, he has been able to bring thousands of people to safety. And with the cameras he smuggles alongside them, he has managed to provide a rare glimpse into a nation that has shut itself off from the rest of the world.

Madeleine Gavin’s documentary is told largely through his footage. There are no recreations, just a first-hand look at the extreme measures that each defector has to take. It’s a heart-stopping experience to watch a family of five hiking their way through rivers and mountains, even their youngest child solemnly aware that they will all be killed if they are caught.

As incredible as this footage is, sometimes the things we don’t see are as powerful as those we do – like a defector talking on the phone with a series of brokers, trying to track down her teenage son after his own escape goes wrong. Since we can’t watch his journey, we’re left to piece it together alongside his mother from the scraps of unreliable information that each phone call provides.

The real-time human drama of it all is so riveting and the stories of life inside North Korea are so strange that it all begins to feel almost fictional. But the intimacy and immediacy with which Beyond Utopia unfolds never allows you to lose sight of just how real it all is.

Released 27 Oct by Dogwoof; certificate 15