When VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy landed in Pyongyang, North Korea in March, he and his crew were not greeted particularly warmly.
“We were on the bus from the airport to the hotel, and one of the minders sat down next to [VICE producer] Jason and I and said ‘I know who you are, I don’t like you, and I don’t like your company,’” Duffy recalled, at a screening of the season finale of “VICE” on HBO.
The VICE crew were engaged in a game of gonzo journalism with the North Korean regime, conceived when VICE co-founder Shane Smith and a colleague were on a train traveling through Siberia, looking to shoot footage on North Korean labor camps. Smith was banned from returning to North Korea after the documentaries he shot were viewed by the government.
“The reality of it was that I saw what everybody else saw,” Smith said. “We wanted to see something that wasn’t shot, that wasn’t out there, that wasn’t the same tour over and over again.”
They decided that the key to getting into the country, and seeing a side of it that hadn’t been seen, was through basketball diplomacy, knowing that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was a huge Chicago Bulls fans.
“We reached out to a few Chicago Bulls, and [Dennis] Rodman said yes,” Smith recalled. “Michael Jordan’s camp was not interested, I believe.”