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Danger and obstacles dog documentary

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Ryan White didn’t have time to think of the danger he was putting himself in at the helm of the documentary “Assassins.”

Not to mention the dozens of obstacles along the way.

But he pushed forward.

“It was not likely that my mom was thrilled,” White says. “It was tricky.”

Mugshots of Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong from the film, “Assassins.”

“Assassins” is an account of the two women – Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong – convicted of assassinating Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in 2017. The film follows their sensational trials in an bid to understand whether they are trained killers or simply pawns.

White spent months on the film, not knowing if it would ever be released.

The Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe will host White, Evans J.R. Revere and Robert R. King at a Zoom panel at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 11. The cost is $10; register at to receive a link to stream the film prior to the discussion. Jaqueline Frank will moderate.

Revere is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies. King is Senior Advisor to the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

White recalled the 2017 killing, but then it was out of the news.

However, he got a call from journalist Doug Bock Clark, who was investigating the story for GQ Magazine.

“He reached out to me and I learned more about the women who were being charged,” White says. “He began to tell me about their backstory and I was really compelled. Impulsively, I was on a flight with him to Malaysia. I took my camera and my director of photography. It was a very small crew because we didn’t know what we’d have access to.”

White is known for such projects as “Ask Dr. Ruth,” “Good Ol’ Freda,” and “The Case Against 8,” all of which are character-based films.

White knew he would have a tough time getting access to the women since they were incarcerated.

Filmmaker Ryan White

“I didn’t know them and I couldn’t meet them, and that was a huge challenge in making a character film about two women in jail,” White says. “In hindsight, while we were watching the trials, everyone was whispering to us that the women weren’t going to get out of this alive. My film would make a strong case that they were innocent.”

White knew he needed to humanize them. Then he realized: “What if this never gets released?”

“If they would have died, we couldn’t release this,” he says. “We had to make a choice and I got access to the women in the end. We wanted to take viewers on a journey … to experience the highs and lows that we experienced.”

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