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July 12th, 2011
Crossing Heaven's Border

“Recounts the harrowing, heartbreaking stories of North Korean refugees
who escape – or try to – across the border into China”
–Miami Herald

“The kind of suspense Hollywood cannot manufacture”
– Wall Street Journal

About the Film

In the past decade, up to 100,000 defectors have crossed the waters of the Tumen and Yalu Rivers into northeast China to escape from North Korea, the world’s last closed Communist state. In Crossing Heaven’s Border, WIDE ANGLE tells the moving and dramatic stories of a few of them.

Crossing Heaven’s Border reveals the plight of North Korean defectors from the point of view of intrepid South Korean journalists who risk their lives filming undercover for ten months to capture the haunting stories first-hand. The reporters introduce us to a mother working in China as a tour guide to support her six-year-old son who is sick with cerebral palsy and in dire need of medical attention. And we follow the grueling ten-day journey of a teenage girl and a little boy smuggled overland across China and Laos into Thailand, where North Korean defectors can request asylum at the South Korean embassy.

About the Issue

The exodus began in the mid-90s when North Korea was plagued by a famine that killed up to a million people. Most defectors flee from North Korea’s poor border regions into northeast China, where they live in hiding, work illegally and have no access to education or medical care. More than three quarters of the defectors are women, many of whom work in the sex industry. If caught by Chinese authorities, they are repatriated to North Korea, where they face severe punishment: persecution, torture, even execution in prison camps. Only a lucky few reach their ultimate goal: asylum in South Korea.

WIDE ANGLE anchor Aaron Brown further explores the plight of defectors from North Korea in a post-film interview with Debra Liang-Fenton, a human rights expert with the United States Institute of Peace, and the former Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

  • Jason Kasper

    I have read and heard stories such as these, but never have seen a report as powerful, beautiful, bold. This was truly an amazing feat and what I would like to see more often in the news. I find it ironic as well that we see how misinformation and non-information can affect a whole country, yet what do our own news outlets report? As a Canadian, I fringe at watching the CBC or other major network as the news is politically-like motivated. They only want you to hear what they deem as ‘news’, and what they think will get ratings to pay for their broadcasts. I therefore rely on the BBC.

    After watching this on PBS, I am encouraged and excited to see this type of journalism. Thank you for broadcasting this report and I truly hope it challenges you, me, and anyone else to actively support Human Rights and freedom for all.

    Lastly, how can we help, well, it starts with you and me. Let’s make an effort to spread the word, increase our own awareness and those around us of this atrocity. Hopefully it will inspire more reporters, who will spread the word out even more. To counteract N.Korea’s indoctrination, let’s start by making sure we are not blinded of it as well. Then perhaps if stand together and united, we could hear in your lifetime those famous words ‘yes we can’.

  • James J. Pryor

    I served in the US Army from 1968 to 1972 on the island of Kang Hwa Do, north of Inchon. There, we and the South Korean residents were subjected to speaker broadcasts and propaganda leaflets telling them to overthrow the American occupiers. This tragic situation has now gone on for 56 years. Except for documentaries such as this, the plight of the citizens of North Korea does not get air time in the U.S. and many other areas. Due to this many Americans are ignorant of the horrific lives led by these people. Please keep up this excellent expose. This is one way to shame the North concerning their brutal way of dealing with dissent. My wife of 36 years is Korean. As she listened to the Korean dialogue, she wept. One Question: Will this report be aired again. I would like my family and friends and the world to have the opportunity to view it. Thank you again for bring this grief to light. Well Done.

  • Paul Jenkens

    That’s strange, I thought all evil in the world was created by bad, imperialist America and George Bush. Could it be there really is an “Axis of Evil”? He didn’t make it up so his oil buddies could get rich?
    Wow…North Korea makes Gitmo look like Heaven!
    How come we haven’t been getting balanced information from our media?
    Could it be we are being lied to and manipulated?

  • Lee

    I’m Korean and came to the U.S for studying English early in this year. Conincidently I saw this program whaile I was searching the channel. Actually it was broadcated last year in Korea. It’s pretty impressive to broadcast in U.S for me. That program is very well organized and based on realistic. I’d say that program reflects most South-Korean view about the North, I think. Honestly South-Korean think the North as just poor country, don’t know about them well even though we are ‘One Vein’. And I appreciate to make this program and inform to lots of people in the world about human right North-Korean. I wish many people would watch this program and more concern about the North-Korea.

  • Maurice

    Congratulations for creating this monumental documentary! I had no idea…but you created the awareness. It was more thrilling than most of the Hollywood movies.
    First, we need to ask the Chinese government to provide North Korean defectors with the refuge status and the work permits.
    Secondly, I hope more people will provide financial contribution to Durihana missionary team. One more donation can rescue one additional life to a safer place. Thanks for posting Durihana link on the website for their contact information.

  • Stephen

    More information on the film is available here:

  • Adam

    This was an incredible piece of journalism. Before watching it, I had known some of what North Korea is like, but I never knew it was this bad. I can’t believe there are secret police that keep tabs on people. It’s difficult to imagine, in today’s world.
    The story of Bo Song and his mother was amazing. The scene where she’s leaving China for North Korea, and he begins to cry and cling to her was so moving. She looked so spent, so completely void of emotion, like she was tired and also holding back what she felt, because she knew that if she responded to his embrace, she would never let go.
    It’s an amazing story that everyone should see.

  • JP

    Request to PBS – This is a must see! Can you please air this episode again? Can you please promote the episode so that more people have the opportunity to watch the show?

  • Edward

    I too was touched by the story of Bo Song and his mother. Though they were reunited, I feel sorry for them and what they will face. Life for a mother and child with disabilities are bad, but in South Korea (which is not as rich as some would claim), they are a nightmare.

  • Minnesota Family and General Practice

    When I was watching last night , me and my soon, we both cryied, I am from the comunist country , but my country not that bad , open ( not much) alot bettuner than north korea, i felt sorry for the north korean , their lost , thier freedom, thier human right,They deserve better than that. How do we can help them ?

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