Updated: Monday, 19th August 2019 @ 10:17am

Inside North Korea: Manchester movie maker films absurd journey with Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman

Inside North Korea: Manchester movie maker films absurd journey with Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman

| By Katie Moore – MM exclusive

From the public execution of family members to threats of nuclear strikes, North Korea is one of the most elusive and volatile countries on the planet. 

But one fearless film producer from Manchester travelled there with none other than former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman, of all people.

 And now that movie maker has shared his unique insight with MM on the whole ‘absurd’ experience.

Colin Offland manages his film company Chief Productions from MediaCityUK, but has spent most of the last few months in Miami and North Korea, accompanying the subject of his latest work.

The 90-minute documentary, to be aired this summer, centres on the controversial basketball game organised by Rodman between ex-NBA players and the North Korean national team.

“I’m just trying to tell a story about this crazy event,” said Colin, 43.

He visited North Korea six years ago with his son, managing to squeeze in the trip while filming in China.

“Once you get back, you become sort of obsessed by it,” he said. “There’s nowhere like it on the planet.”


SQUARE DANCE: North Koreans perform in Pyongyang main square

When Colin, who lives in south Manchester, discovered that Paddy Power were sponsoring Rodman’s trip to North Korea, he was determined to be the one to document it.

As one of only a handful of TV producers to have visited the country previously, he argued – with success – that it had to be him.

Colin and his team of four production staff visited Miami last autumn to film Rodman selecting his NBA players ‘X Factor-style’.

But after supreme leader Kim Jong-un executed his uncle Chang Song Thaek in December, several players decided to withdraw.

Paddy Power also pulled their sponsorship of the event, in what they called ‘a reaction to the worldwide focus and total condemnation of the North Korean regime over recent events’.

But Kim Jong-un wanted the match to take place on his birthday, January 8, so to the disbelief of the world’s media, the event was to go ahead.

Colin recalls that ten days before they were due to fly out, he and his team were still waiting for their formal invitation from North Korea.

They did, however, receive a letter from the Olympic Committee who assured them of their safe passage.

“It was a nervous time,” said Colin. “But they basically assured us, ‘Nothing is going to happen to you while you are there’.”

And so a motley crew of 11 NBA veterans and some cameramen from Manchester travelled together via Beijing to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.


THE LONELY ROAD: A North Korean bicycles home

Colin seems as baffled as anyone else about the bizarre friendship between Rodman and the country’s notorious ruler.

“He met the leader and for whatever reason, they got on – I think they both probably like a drink,” said Colin. “Is Dennis Rodman being used by the North Koreans? Probably. I don’t know if it is a friendship for life.”

But he also believes – though this has the possibility of being taken completely out of context – that Rodman is a good judge of character.

He described the former Chicago Bulls player as a shy person who he got on well with, although his fiery temper can be witnessed on several occasions in the film.

And despite not being especially articulate, despite being a heavy drinker, the incredible ability from his sporting career to know exactly what was going on around him at all times appears to have stayed with him, Colin explained.

But what of the world’s most secretive state?

Colin believes North Korea is actually a safe place for tourists, reassured prior to their controversial trip by the fact he already ‘knew the rules’.

However, visiting as part of a TV crew, he was treated rather differently.

“They were very restrictive. I was more controlled this time and that was very annoying.”


DESOLATION ROW: A photographer captures a street in North Korea

One day Colin saw a group of children sledging in the snow, sheer delight on their faces, and asked the driver to stop so that he could get some footage.

But his guides would not allow it, instead offering to take them to a nearby ice rink where they could witness a similar scene.

“They just want to show you things in their best light,” he said. “They didn’t want us to film anything spontaneously.”

He was also amazed by the response of North Korean citizens to a foreign film crew driving through the streets in a motorcade.

“I was really surprised by how not bothered they were,” he said. “I don’t know why that is. But everyone just gets on with their life.”

He hopes that if more people have the opportunity to go there in the future, it will undo what has been drummed into North Koreans from an early age – that Westerners are bad people.

Colin believes the not-yet-completed documentary will tell ‘an incredible story with lots of twists’, but acknowledges that anything could yet happen.

He said: “With it being North Korea, it is impossible to predict what you are going to get.”

He also confessed he wouldn’t be surprised if Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American who has been in custody there since November 2012, was soon released.

But Colin was desperate to point out that he made this journey to document a basketball game, not to slag off a country he calls both beautiful and weird.

“Everyone who films something on North Korea always mocks it,” he said. “It is really easy to do that. People make judgements on it, but that country is so complicated.

“I don’t want to mock it. We want to get more of an impartial view, on sports. I have not made a film slagging off North Korea in any way.”

Chief Productions are in talks with several different television broadcasters about the rights to the film, but may decide on a cinema release instead.

When asked whether they met Kim Jong-un on their visit, Colin was reluctant to spill the beans.

He said: “To say it was high-security would be a huge understatement. We did come close to meeting him, yes. But that’s another story – I think I’ll save it for the documentary.”

Pictures courtesy of Gabriel Britto, Fresh888 and Matt Paish, with thanks.