[Film] Awareness. Compassion. Change. North Korean Human Rights

This is a film I have been working on since summer break before senior year. After completing a week at Georgetown Broadcast Journalism summer camp, I was inspired to film a short Op-documentary that would raise awareness of North Korea and its refugees worldwide.

Although I have spent an ample amount of time editing and have received tremendous help during the process, my video clip is still not perfect. Please, please give me feedback if you would like to comment on any aspect of the video.

Special thanks to my friends from Miss Porter’s who have provided me with all their support. Thank you, Sophie Paris (Miss Porter’s School Photography instructor) for giving up a great amount of your free time and teaching me essential iMovie skills, helping me edit along the way, advising me, and encouraging me until the completion of this project. So much thanks to my friends at school for their constructive ideas and suggestions. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for the support from Miss Porter’s community. I am truly blessed to belong there.

Thank you to all my interviewees. Although my visit to my old middle school broadcast studio, DBS (Daecheong Broadcast Studio) was rather sudden, you all responded eloquently and thoughtfully. Thank you to all including ones whose responses I could not include in the video due to time limit. From the bottom of my heart I truly appreciate your help.

Thank you so much, Ms. Hosaniak (Joanna Hosaniak; Deputy Director General at NKHR) for offering over an hour to respond to my interview. It was truly a source of inspiration and a steppingstone for this whole video.

Last but not least, I would like to dedicate this video to two organizations that have inspired me to commit myself to this crucial cause of North Korean Human Rights: Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). I have worked with both organizations since early sophomore year when I created North Korean Human Rights Club at school with two great teammates. Thank you so much, Eun Young Kim (Senior Program Officer, Campaign Team at NKHR) for hearing me out with my ideas for this video and giving me solid directions. You also made the interview with Joanna possible. Thank you so much.

Thank you everyone who I may have not acknowledged yet.

Help shape change with these amazing human rights activists.
Awareness. Compassion. Change.


Jee Young (Jenna) Lee (Miss Porter’s School ’14)


[The Korea Herald] Sharing His Journey Through Music – North Korean Pianist Kim Cheol-woong

N. Korean pianist’s quest for musical freedom

North Korean defector, pianist Kim Cheol-woong delivers his story through music


Published : 2013-07-14 19:05
Updated : 2013-07-14 19:06

If music is a universal language North Korean pianist Kim Cheol-woong found perhaps one of its best uses.

On Saturday, Kim illustrated his spoken account of his journey in pursuit of musical freedom with a mix of compositions at a concert at Haechi Hall in Seoul, organized by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), for which Kim is a cultural ambassador.

Kim, who comes from an elite North Korean family, entered the stage exuding modesty and a warm sense of humor.

In between playing a harmonious mixture of classical from North Korea, Western compositions, and his own sonata, he described episodes of his life after fleeing his privileged background.

He explained that his work in the North Korean human rights movement was motivated by his desire to bring people together through music. 

“We can help the cause by going out to the pickets, but that would not be the only way to help. I hope that I can bring a soft touch through my music,” he said. 

Kim, 39, was trained in classical music in Pyongyang from the age of 8, learning music that was rigid in technique and restrained in expression, heavily inclined toward North Korean propaganda. 

“When I was in third grade, I had to learn to play a song called ‘revolutionary army game,’” he told the audience. 

Like any maestro, when Kim plays, his fingers run across the piano keys in a synchronized dance. He described how he protected these fingers when the Chinese authorities beat him for 11 hours at a Beijing airport, by tucking them away firmly under his arms. 

“It was okay for my head to break, but I had to protect my fingers,” he said.

After school, Kim had gone on to study music at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Upon his return to North Korea, he became the chief pianist for the State Symphony Orchestra, where he was to play only patriotic and military tunes for the leaders of the country. 

Pianist Kim Cheol-woong plays at a concert. (www.nkhrrescuefund.org)

One night Kim was reported to the National Security Office in Pyongyang for practicing a jazz piece by French pianist Richard Clayderman called “A Comme Amour,” for which he was asked to write a report of self-criticism. 

This created a deep dilemma for Kim. 

“I simply couldn’t understand why I had to write a self-criticism report, because I am a pianist, and I’m supposed to play the piano,” he said. 

His decision to leave North Korea was made because of the way artists were treated, and because he wanted to play the piano freely.

“On this earth, there is one country where you can’t sing the song you want to even though you have a mouth, listen to the music that you want to even though you have ears, and play the music that you want to even though you have fingers. That is North Korea,” he said. 

However, his journey to musical freedom after fleeing the regimented state was not easy. Crossing the Tumen River into China and coming to South Korea involved working as a servant for a Chinese family and being an illegal migrant in a Chinese logging camp. 

The first time Kim saw a piano again was in a Christian missionary church in China, which he described as “odd looking and very amazing at the same time.” 

“Out of the 88 keys, 50 did not make any sound,” he said. But Kim, who was so overcome with emotion, held on to the piano and cried. 

Today, Kim’s journey of musical freedom is still underway. 

He describes it in four phases: The first phase was learning the music, and the second followed with playing the music he learned under oppression in North Korea. The third was escaping this oppression and truly realizing his journey to musical freedom. 

Finally, Kim is in the fourth phase, where he is trying to play music at a certain level that creates a message of faith and peace. 

Since arriving in South Korea in 2001, Kim has gone on to teach music at universities, founded an arts organization for North Korean defectors, and become an advocate for North Korean Human rights.

“North Korea does not have a concept of human rights,” Kim explained. When he was first invited to a human rights forum, Kim realized that he could do more to spread awareness. 

“I want to let people know that there’s nothing wrong between North and South Koreans, there are just differences. Being different is very different from being wrong. Through music, I want to focus on the similarities.”

The concert is one of many fundraising events organized by NKHR to help North Korean defectors resettle in South Korea. The organization was established to offer cultural and academic support to young people and students. 

The concert was first conceived as a way of reaching out to the local community by combining two things that are internationally celebrated: music and storytelling. 

All proceeds raised will help refugee rescue efforts and education programs for young North Koreans. 

“Kim Cheol-woong is not only an accomplished musician, but he is also an engaging storyteller. It is very rare for North Korean defectors to be able to deliver their stories through music, so we are very happy to be working together with him,” said Lilian Lee, one of the NKHR Concert organizers. 

Reunification is a key aim for NKHR, one that Kim also advocates for extensively. 

One day, Kim believes his dream of being able to play with his friends from Pyongyang and South Korea together will come true. 

“Dreams are something that should be realized and must be realized,” Kim said with a smile on his face. 

By Astha Rajvanshi, Intern reporter

Credits to: 

Fund successfully delivered to Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights!

[Donation] A student of Miss Porter’s School, Jenna Lee, led a campaign on North Korean Human Rights and raised $ 321.47 through selling T-shirts. She participated in the NKHR’s 1st Workshop on North Korean Human Rights, which targets highschool students, in 2011. The Miss Porter’s School donated $ 321.47 to NKHR. Thank you! (Photo: Benjamin H. Yoon, Founder & Chairman of NKHR and Jenna Lee)

[기부] 국내외 고등학생 대상 ‘제1회 북한인권 청소년 워크숍’에 참여했던 미국 Miss Porter’s School의 이지영 학생이, 학교로 돌아가 만든 북한인권 동아리에서 티셔츠 판매를 통한 북한인권 캠페인을 벌여 마련한 $ 321.47을 북한인권시민연합에 기부하였습니다. 보내주신 후원금 소중하게 사용하겠습니다. 감사합니다! (사진 설명: 지난 3월 북한인권 동아리 활동을 논의하기 위해 사무국에 방문한 이지영 학생과 윤현 이사장)Image