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Filming at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Written on May 9, 2016

An Overview.

One of the last relics of the Cold War, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a 250 kilometres (160 miles) long, and 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide strip of land, running along the 38th parallel. Separating North Korea and South Korea, it is the the most heavily militarized border in the world. The Northern Limit Line (NLL), is the disputed maritime demarcation line between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea, not agreed in the armistice. The coastline and islands on both sides of the NLL are also heavily militarized. Within the DMZ is a meeting-point between the two nations in the small Joint Security Area near the western end of the zone, where negotiations take place.

There have been various incidents in and around the DMZ, with military and civilian casualties on both sides. Several tunnels have been built as an invasion route for the North Koreans. Since the armistice of 1953 sporadic outbreaks of violence have killed hundreds of soldiers.

Propaganda warfare continues with peace villages, flagpoles, loudspeaker installations, balloons, and a Korean Wall.

DMZ Film Permits.

On the South Korea side, permission to film takes about 3 weeks. Officials will require information including the project synopsis, film locations, shoot and airing dates and regions. Only specific locations are allowed to be filmed and this is strictly enforced. Given the DMZ is lined with landmines and guarded by battle-ready, heavily armed soldiers, it’s best to obey the rules.

Technically, DMZ guards and the North Korean side are not allowed to be filmed but this can be achieved with hidden cameras. It’s not uncommon for tourists to take photos with South Korean soldiers.

Filming on the North Korean side is not possible through South Korea. North Korean officials strictly control any filming in North Korea, so any filming in North Korea needs to be cleared with Pyongyang.

Interviewing North Koreans.

South Korea has a considerable number of defectors living inside its borders. They may be willing to speak with you on or off the record depending on the safety situation of their families back in the north. It is not possible to speak with North Koreans in North Korea without the permission and oversight of Pyongyang.

One option to film North Korean communities is at the Five West Sea Islands. Currently administrated by Incheon, the islands are a disputed territory. Naval battles have broken out as recently as 1999 and 2002. The islands are occupied by inhabitants and survivors of previous battles, as well as North Korean defectors.

Getting There.

Seoul Incheon Airport is very well serviced by many international airlines.

Driving from Seoul to Panmunjeom takes less than 4 hours, depending on traffic, which can be very congested in the city. Panmunjeom is the site of the negotiations that ended the Korean War and is the main center of human activity in the DMZ.

Korean Film Production Service Support, Crew, and Equipment.

Korea has a world-class, well established film infrastructure with very experienced crews and all of the standard and more specialised camera, grip and lighting equipment you might require.

Contact us if you are looking for a Seoul based local fixer, full production service support or a shooting crew with experience in filming at the DMZ.