J.S.: In the credits in the beginning, it says “Amerinda Est. Productions”. Who was that? An Italian company? Was the film a co-production?
F.B.: It was an Italian company. The film was a co-production between that company and North Korea. Amerinda was a part of some big company... They funded the co-production.
J.S.: But the film was never released in Italy?
F.B.: No. Because they started to fight about money. Amerinda and the North Koreans. Like, it’s my business–your business, who can do what in Germany, in France, in Italy... I totally forgot what it was all about.
J.S.: What was your first impression when you went to Pyongyang?
F.B.: It was fantastic. Very, very clean.
J.S.: And no traffic.
F.B.: Sure. No smoke. You know, very wide.... Only one thing disturbed me there. Every day we went outside of Pyongyang to shoot and every day there was this long row of people walking in the streets, thousands of people. Walking in the streets.
J.S.: I have seen the same.
F.B.: Yes. Well, why? I couldn’t understand. So, I asked my assistant. He knew the reason and he showed it to me: they were all soldiers on work assignments. They would work on the construction of some road, walking out there every day into the middle of nowhere to do all the construction work by hand! ... But the people there are so pure! Very kind! There was no confusion... and no cars. No cars at all! Everyone walking!
J.S.: You always had a guide with you?
J.S.: I also always had a guide around me when I went there. Every visitor has. But when I went there, the foreigners always played that game of trying to find a way to run away...
F.B.: Yes, of course, but we couldn’t do that because they were watching us very, very closely. After a while, they would say, okay, okay, let’s go out together. But all in all, they controlled us very strictly.
And of course, where would you go? First of all, there are no stores. We asked to buy something. You know, we ate at the hotel for days and days, always Korean food. So we asked to go out and buy some food in the supermarket. No supermarket. We asked, “Can we just go out?” They said: “No, no.” But, someday we found a big department store at the square near the train station. But there was only one line, a big line of girls. I looked again – it was only women waiting in that line. Why? We wanted to find out. The people saw that we were foreigners and said: “Go, go, go, you can’t buy anything here!” Suddenly we were in front of the line and we could see what they sold - they would sell only two things: one was red lipstick, the other one white lipstick! Two things for sale – that was all.
J.S.: Makes sense that it was only girls in the queue...
F.B.: Yes, because, the government decided, it’s the year of the lips. We thought, “That’s funny”! But believe me; it was strange to see a thousand people there just to buy something for the lips. Was amazing... but interesting.
J.S.: Actually, I was in that department store next to the train station. But there was no customer at that time and the sales ladies just said: “Go to the hotel, go to the hotel! Not here!” But they weren’t selling anything, anyway.
F.B.: You can buy things only in the hotel. Same for us. But we started to ask many things about Pyongyang. Like, we asked the young girls waiting the tables about their life... But they wouldn’t answer our questions. And if we asked, “Are you married?” they would go, “What, me, married?!” Why? I later found out, that you can marry only when you are 27 years old. I asked my assistant: “Are you married?” He said: “No.” “What do you do then, until you are 27? Do you have a fiancé or something?” He goes: “Yes.” “And do you live with her?” “No” “When can you see her?” “Not until she is 27.” “And she can wait all that time? And you really don’t meet her some days, some nights?” Maybe he met her every once in a while but he said: “No.” That was very difficult to understand...
J.S.: A question about the actors. I understand you could choose the Western actors but there are also a lot of Asians in the film. Are they North Koreans? Could you choose them?
F.B.: Yes, they are North Koreans. There is only one production agency in North Korea. They decided about the Korean actors. They said: “This one, this one, this one...”
J.S.: What about Frank Zagarino? He is American...
F.B.: You know, Zagarino, he got in trouble. Because he likes to take photos. You know the Americans: “Picture! Picture! Picture!” is all they think. One day, they stopped him and led him away. I discussed with the North Koreans and asked: “Why? This is impossible!” They said: “He’s American! He’s a spy!” Finally, the Italian embassy in Beijing got involved and got him released after 2 days in jail.
J.S.: What did Zagarino say about the jail?
F.B.: Naturally, he was very angry about the North Koreans.
J.S.: Did he tell you any details about the jail?
F.B.: Not really. He would just go on and on ranting...