Kelowna filmmaker Nigel Edwards snaps a quick selfie in his Kelowna Rockets jersey while filming in North Korea. (Contributed)

Kelowna filmmaker reflects on one-of-a-kind North Korea hockey documentary

Nigel Edwards’ Closing the Gap: Hockey in North Korea film premieres Dec. 5 at Whistler Film Festival

To most people, North Korea conjures up images of poverty, censorship and unimaginable suffering.

However, a new documentary film shot by a local filmmaker aims to shed light on the Hermit Kingdom.

In a first-of-its-kind film, Nigel Edwards’ uncensored documentary called Closing the Gap: Hockey in North Korea explores the trials and tribulations of the North Korea hockey team as the underdogs at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation tournament.

To shoot the film, Edwards’ film crew made three separate trips to North Korea, as the film took nearly four years to complete.

“We wanted to metaphorically close the gap between our world and theirs through hockey,” said Edwards.

“It was a discovery trip on how exactly the film was going to be made.

“How do you pull out individuals from a group of people who don’t want to be on screen or seen as individuals. In North Korea, it’s about the collective.”

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Edwards and his film crew were the first group of foreign filmmakers to be allowed unprecedented access to any North Korean sports club.

The director said while his experience in the impoverished country was vastly different from his Okanagan roots, when it came to the sport of hockey there were lots of similarities.

“Even though we live very different lives, we can connect through hockey and sport, which I think is the kind of undertone of the film,” said Edwards.

“We’re no different. We have two arms, two legs, two eyes and the general hope of this film is to give them a voice of which they’re so deserving.”

Building trust with the North Korean players was one of the biggest difficulties and one of the biggest priorities during the filming of the documentary.

Once trust was established, Edwards learned through personal stories from the players that hockey in North Korea and hockey in the Okanagan are very similar.

The film’s plot follows the North Korea players and coaches as they enter a 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation tournament in New Zealand.

While they take bumps, bruises and losses at the tournament, the North Korean players showcase their resolve, discipline, talent and culture while trying to be successful at honouring their North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

READ MORE: Kelowna Olympian added to UBC Okanagan coaching staff

“This isn’t an essay into North Korea,” said Edwards.

“It’s really just a small look at a group of people and how hockey is an in-road to their lives.”

Edwards is excited for the film’s premiere at the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 and expects it will be picked up by an online streaming service next year.

While the film took him four years to complete, he isn’t taking any time off. Edwards has already started work on his next project, a documentary about the North Korean women’s international soccer team.

For more information about the film visit the documentary’s website here.

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