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In the Foreword to the second edition of his 2012 profile of former North Korean prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk, whose harrowing escape from Kaechon internment camp drew the attention of human rights organizations around the world, American journalist Blaine Harden addresses recent revelations (made public three years after the publication of his book) that his subject had stretched the truth and misrepresented his actual experiences as the only known person to have been born in—and to have escaped from—such a place. Those admissions on the part of an ex-prisoner who still bears the physical and emotional scars of his past were made public in 2015, three years after the release of a feature-length documentary based on Harden’s book. That film, Camp 14: Total Control Zone, is less skeptical of Shin’s testimony than Harden’s revised text, which nevertheless maintains that his subject’s life “is not fiction” while foregrounding the ethical dilemmas that he and other journalists face when trying to report facts that simply cannot be checked. However, in combining seemingly straightforward talking-head interviews and poetically rendered animated sequences showing the life he led under a repressive military regime, the film adopts a hybridized form in which the line between history and fiction is blurred. The chapter reveals how Camp 14: Total Control Zone distinguishes itself from other animated documentaries by dramatizing the life of a prisoner for whom escape was not only a survival tactic but also a captivating “plot point.”
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- Human Rights Documentary or Plot-Driven Prison Drama? Animation and Nonfiction “Storytelling” in Camp 14: Total Control Zone
David Scott Diffrient