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CLOSING THE GAP follows a group of North Korean hockey players whose sole purpose is to bring home gold to honour their Leader, the "Dear Marshal" Kim Jong Un. Using sport as a conduit, the film chronicles the journey of these North Korean underdogs as they travel from Pyongyang to Auckland, New Zealand to compete in the 2017 IIHF tournament.
In what is the first recorded account of North Korea allowing foreign filmmakers unprecedented access to any sports club, this pseudo-vérité film reveals individuals from a regime that is not conducive to individuality. Despite this, even when they lose and it seems as if the world is against them, these players are determined to seek for themselves that which we all seek — self-worth.
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In 2016, five Canadian filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to the North Korean Ice Hockey Association. After nearly a year of discussions with multiple North Korean organizations and ministries, including two scouting trips to Pyongyang, our Vancouver-based team travelled to North Korea in November for our first on-location shoot.
Based at Pyongyang's Ice Arena, we followed the Taesongsan Hockey Club from the locker rooms to the ice as they competed in the November Tournament of the Republic. On-camera discussions with players, coaches and officials offer in-depth insights into the motivations and aspirations of North Korean athletes.
While in Pyongyang, our crew worked closely with the North Korean Ice Hockey Association and the Ministry of Sports. Although North Korean organizers were always present, they did not interfere with, nor did they censor, any of our material.
The crew returned to Pyongyang in March 2017 to catch the tail end of the DPRK national men's ice hockey team's training. We then travelled with the team by train and plane from Pyongyang to Auckland, New Zealand by way of Beijing to participate in the 2017 IIHF Division II Group B tournament.
We wrapped up filming during a final on location shoot in Pyongyang in March 2018. The film is currently in post processing in Canada and our anticipated release date is set for early 2019.
sunny hahm with north korean youth players at pyongyang's ice arena.
TAESONGSAN'S GOALIE wipES sweat FROM HIS FACE during a break.
school STUDENTS LINE UP FOR DAILY calisthenics.
nigel edwards filming some b-roll in pyongyang.
goAlie listening to the coach in the locker room.
Our six-person Vancouver-based film crew worked closely together to theorize, negotiate, develop and produce this film with initial support from Capilano University's LaunchPad. We've also received support and guidance from numerous individuals in Canada, North Korea, China, New Zealand and the United States.
The crew consists of Nigel Edwards (Director and Producer), Devan Francis (Cinematographer and Producer), Matt Reichel (Location Manager and Producer), Sky Morfopoulos (Sound Mixer and Producer), Hyung Sun "Sunny" Hahm (Translator and Associate Producer) and Michael Roh (Translator and Assistant).
Having got his start producing music videos and short films, Nigel decided to further expand his cinematic vocabulary at the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano University. After graduating, Nigel was sought after as a Producer’s Assistant on CTV & NBC’s hit crime show, MOTIVE. Following this experience, he was then asked to direct Season 1 of Telus Storyhive’s “Coded.” He has worked on productions with the Canadian Forces in the Arctic, and produced CBC's Canada 150 CrossReads mini series. More recently, Nigel co-founded the production company, WindowBox, while still continuing to develop his narrative portfolio.
Born in Daegu, South Korea, but a native of Grande Prairie, Alberta, Devan has always had a passion for action sports. From automotive racing to freestyle skiing, Devan enjoys filming all things fast. More recently, his enjoyment with the great outdoors in BC has pushed him to reach new heights, literally, on the mountains that surround Vancouver. He is also a skilled photographer. Devan graduated from the Bachelor of Motion Picture Arts program at Capilano University in 2015.
Matt is a media entrepreneur, photographer and documentarian. He graduated from Brown University with degrees in International Relations and East Asian Studies. He is also an experienced photographer and has worked on recent projects in Russia, Greenland, China, the Congo and Canada’s Arctic. Matt has visited North Korea more than forty times over the last decade, coordinating various humanitarian, education, exchange and media projects. He speaks fluent Mandarin.
Sky holds a degree in Liberal Studies with a focus on Art History and Film. Her thesis was a documentary film on contemporary Canadian art, which sought to both educate and inspire young people to engage in the arts as a means to build Canadian cultural identity. Sky has held a number of positions in film production but has found her niche in producing. She is passionate about working with creatives and committed to the process of guiding their media projects from inception to completion.
Born in Seoul, raised in Vancouver, Sunny is a Korean-Canadian with heritage Korean roots and west coast influences. He holds a Bachelors of Commerce degree from the University of British Columbia and has studied abroad in both Singapore and South Korea. Sunny grew up playing hockey from the age of six and his hockey insight coupled with his ability to speak Korean are invaluable on and off the ice in Pyongyang. He has visited North Korea three times over the past two years, in addition to spending time embedded with the DPRK team in New Zealand. Sunny has a personal connection to North Korea, the birth land of his grandfather, and strives to promote greater understading.
Michael is a Korean-American with an east coast upbringing but familial roots that can be traced back to North Korea. He holds a Bachelors in Economics from Brown University, and is a prospective law student interested in pursuing international law. He has visited North Korea three times since 2013, and spent two summers working on educational non-profit initiatives in North Korea and China. Michael brings equal doses of passion and intelligence to his work. He is a fluent Korean speaker.
Rob Merilees has been financing and producing films for over 19 years, and has been a producer on such critically acclaimed films as Capote, The Snow Walker and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. In early 2009, Rob launched Foundation Features, which is committed to the production of diverse and commercially viable films and television. Under the Foundation label, he recently produced the sci-fi comedy, Space Milkshake and the documentary, Revolution, Rob Stewart’s follow-up to the award-winning Sharkwater. Rob also executive produced the one-hour primetime dramatic series, Mental, and is currently an executive producer for the hit crime-drama, Motive. In 2008, Rob was voted Canadian Producer of the Year by the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association.