A film documenting the harrowing path to freedom for a family escaping from North Korea has been described as "nail-bitingly tense" by The Guardian, while the charity Open Doors said it was "eye-opening" and very educational.
The documentary, called 'Beyond Utopia', by director Madeleine Gavin, has won awards at festivals around the world, including the Audience Award at Sundance in Salt Lake City in Utah, and four nominations for the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, including for Best Feature. It includes footage filmed by the family, as they made their way out of the totalitarian regime, to safety in South Korea. They travelled via a network of safe houses and underground railroads, run by a South Korean pastor, Kim Sung-eun.
Megan Titley is from Open Doors charity, and her work means she's already aware of some of the extreme struggles persecuted Christians can face. She tells Premier she found the film helpful, if challenging: "I learned a lot, just watching it myself... it's very sensitive. And it just really gives you hope that someone like Pastor Kim has dedicated his life to helping North Koreans escape route to safety." She says his impact has been significant in saving hundreds of lives: "Since he started his work, he's helped 1000 North Koreans escape."
For believers living in the communist regime, expressing any public form of Christian faith is especially hard, and often extremely dangerous. North Korea is currently top of the "World Watch list" for dangerous places to be a Christian. The list is compiled each year by the charity Open Doors, which works with persecuted Christians around the world.
The charity says the decision to return North Korea to their top level of risk was based on research indicating the highest levels of persecution ever seen. "Its score of 98, an all-time high, reflects an increase in arrests of Christians, and house-churches discovered and closed – under the new ‘anti-reactionary thought law’."
Megan Titley, tells Premier what life is like for Christians living under the regime: "They're basically regarded as political prisoners. So if you are discovered to be meeting with other Christians, or to have a Bible, you will basically be executed on the spot or sent to a labour camp. And that's not just you, that's going to be your entire families who will also be rounded up and suffer the same fate."
She says films like 'Beyond Utopia' are an important way to help draw attention to their plight: "I think any kind of personal story is vital...it can feel like a country, which is far away and kind of impossible to help. But when you see people's faces... your heart reaches out to them. There were many moments in the film, when you feel a deep empathy for the things that people are going through."
You can read Megan's in-depth review in Premier's Christianity magazine here.