As attention turned to a small island in Singapore where two of the world’s most infamous men - Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un - met to discuss denuclearisation and peace (and, hopefully, haircare tips), there was a time in the not-so-distant past when all of this seemed impossible.
Or was there?
The worlds of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are connected by one unlikely man - the notorious basketball player and celebrity Dennis Rodman. Now, The Drum is not saying that Rodman is directly responsible for this historical meeting, but he certainly plays a part.
In 2015, following a stint on the Celebrity Apprentice (hosted by the now commander in chief of the USA, Donald Trump), Rodman announced his intention to travel to North Korea, taking a group of former basketball players to play against the North Korean national team, under the guise of improving diplomatic relations. The notorious despot, Kim Jong-un, was a fan of the sport and had struck up a friendship with the former LA Laker, meeting him several times from 2013 onwards.
The trip (organised in part by gambling firm Paddy Power - a company that always has one eye on the PR headlines) was captured by director Colin Offland, of MediaCity based film production company Chief Productions. The result was the documentary Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang, a first-hand account of the build-up to and events of the feted basketball match. Here, The Drum talks to Offland to find out more.
How did you get involved in this project?
I had actually been to North Korea travelling a couple of years prior to making this documentary and stayed in touch with what was happening in the country. When Paddy Power announced that they were backing Dennis with his basketball diplomacy project, I thought the combination of Rodman, Kim Jong-un and Paddy Power was such an incredible combination I approached the marketing director and proposed they made a documentary. It was the best email I’ve ever received when Christian Wolfenden responded to me saying great minds think alike, come and see us this week!
Paddy Power were initially involved, but due to rising political tensions backed out. Did you ever think of doing the same thing?
When Paddy Power pulled out after the first trip, it was incredibly disappointing and I thought the documentary had lost a key ingredients and my enthusiasm waned. However, they suggested I continue and with what followed on the subsequent trips... I’m glad I did.
How long did you spend over there? How was the trip arranged?
I visited the country four times while making the documentary, three times filming and once to get them to release some footage! The trip was organised via the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Sport in North Korea.
What were your first impressions of North Korea and what were the main issues when it came to filming in the country?
My mind was blown the first time I went there, Its like nowhere else on the planet, it was caught in a unrecognisable place in time, it fascinated me. Having been there before made it easier for me when it came to making the film because I had a much greater understanding of the culture and the foreseeable problems we might face, the main one being getting their trust. The hardest problem of all though was getting them to allow me to film everyday life in the country, they are a very risk averse nation, probably because the penalties are so great so they like to have full control over every aspect…they’re like the worst client ever and moving forward they do need a good agency to work with.
Are you still in contact with Dennis Rodman now and would you do a follow up to the film now that these peace talks are in place?
I haven’t met up with Dennis since he came out of rehab but I’m in touch with the whole team regularly on social media.
The documentary Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Colin Offland, CEO, Chief