Screened as part of NZIFF 2023

Beyond Utopia 2022

Directed by Madeleine Gavin Political States

In this astonishing, edge-of-the-seat chronicle, the camera follows audacious, high-risk quests to escape from North Korea, and the man who plans them, with a rare intimacy and emotional power.

Jul 21

The Civic

Jul 24

The Civic

Jul 29

The Bridgeway Cinema

Aug 04
Sold Out

Rialto Cinemas Newmarket

Aug 08

Academy Cinemas

USA In English and Korean with English subtitles
115 minutes Colour / DCP

Director, Editor


Jana Edelbaum
Rachel Cohen
Sue Mi Terry


Hyun Seok Kim


Adam Taylor
Taylor Page


Pastor Seungeun Kim
Soyeon Lee
Hyuchang Wu


Sundance, CPH:DOX 2023


Audience Award (US Documentary), Sundance Film Festival 2023


In its third generation of dynastic dictatorship, North Korea remains one of the most impoverished, draconian, caged corners of the world. Across the border in Seoul, the unlikeliest of espionage action heroes, a middle-aged pastor called Sengeun Kim, has devoted his life to the near impossible: getting defectors out. Beyond Utopia chronicles first-hand the knife-edge attempts he plans and leads.

A mother who has escaped seeks to facilitate the exit of a son she has not seen for a decade. A family of five, with grandma and young daughters, embarks on a jaw-dropping journey, over barbed wire, past watchtowers, crossing multiple rivers and mountain ranges, involving various “brokers” with various motives. To make it happen, Pastor Kim risks his own life time after time, motivated by the story of his North Korean wife and the loss of a son.

The personal stories of resettled defectors, who recall the paradise narratives they were fed as children, together with commentary from experts, wraps a context around proceedings. But the escapes themselves are the engine and the heart – missions as intimate as they are intense, the camera right alongside the defectors on their ineffably perilous, astonishing pursuit of freedom. – Toby Manhire

“When life hands you an opportunity to watch footage like this, you don’t turn it down. From an 80-year-old woman scaling a jungle-covered mountain in the dead of night while military dogs bark in the background to a mother tearing up as she shows her daughter fruits and flowers for the first time, Beyond Utopia is filled with the kind of 'holy shit how did they get this?' footage that the documentary medium exists to preserve. Films like Beyond Utopia are the same as people like Pastor Kim – their existence is a miracle, and we need to cherish every one we get.” – Christian Zilko, IndieWire