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July 2nd, 2009
Crossing Heaven's Border
Video: Full Episode

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.

  • Otana

    What a beautiful, moving documentary. Learning about the human rights violations in North Korea is one thing, but putting actual faces to it, seeing real people trying to escape, just makes it that much more emotional. I hope they are all able to live long, happy lives in South Korea.

  • ericka

    I think this is a great doc. It was great watching it for school. It shows that there is people that are living a very tough life and that’s why we’re supposed to value ours. It was very emotional. Probably the best I’ve ever seen.

  • abdurahman

    this is a great documentary, thanks Wide Angel and to those reporters…….

  • Sam

    While my comment may be a little late in reply to others, as well as to this documentary, I still wanted to clear the air.

    The woman with the son does speak with a peculiar South Korean accent but that would be because of the defector rehabilitation center in South Korea known as Hanawan. DPRK defectors who come to South Korea and seek help are sent through a rigorous 2-month long program with almost over 9 hours a day of classes to give them a crash course in capitalism, technology and, of course, South Korean dialect as well as simply English. [The 9 hours was calculated by means of the number of hours of class they attended divided by 52, assuming they have weekends off.] This is why defectors will most often not speak with a clear North Korean accent. 90% of defectors will go through this center.

    Also, adopting a child from Korea is not “saving them.” South Korea is a wonderfully developed country and has come a long way for only being a democracy for 20 odd years. You CANNOT adopt a child from North Korea so to presume that you are saving a child from “the Koreas” is to assume that South Korea is a country worth saving from. That is an opinion that I find highly offensive since South Korea came from being a severely under developed country, too poor in the 1950s to afford pencils, to the 8th largest exporter, ranked 7th in the Education Index, 1st in the Digital Opportunity Index, and is the 15th in the world by GDP. They did this within one generation, while it took the United States an average of 3.

    As long as North Korea continues its isolation and continues to threaten the South with its enormous amount of weapons pointed at Seoul, it appears as though there is nothing the American government can do to help except for diplomatic talks. Hopefully this issue can be resolved within the next generation of Koreans. While I am not Korean myself, I feel as if I have become indoctrinated into their culture and my heart goes out to the whole Korean peninsula and I am a strong advocate of reunification.

  • Chupuk

    Why is this video not available for viewing in South Korea? What is the point of producing such a show and not having it available to those with possibly the most interest. Most Americans dont even know a war was fought for Korean let alone the struggle that has gone on between North and South since the early fifties.

    Shame on PBS for now making very little of their content available outside the US. Lets just chalk this up as another loss for freedom, which I thought PBS was always pushing as their credo. Count me as a 30 year supporter that will simply listen to the blab on CNN from now on. At least its free.

  • Rania


  • brad

    In parallel to what Sam mentioned about Dale’s comment, from back in July, the story of the woman with an inflicted son is real. Beyond the “accent” arguemnt, no actor could portray the look on her face as her son cries while hugging her goodbye. The look on her face crisscrossed so many different emotions in a nanosecond: exhaustion, determination, anger, numbness, longing, hatred, love, fear, malaise, emptiness, adherence, and vigilance. A touch of sorrow was thrown in for good measure as well. I have been studying acting and have acted for years, and, from my perspective, the idea that the mom and son story was theatrical by any means, other than how it was cut together, is appalling.

    Besides, the point remains profound: it is likely that a mother and son, any mother and son, who venture out of North Korea to defect dance with the possibility of never seeing each other again and other hardships; this a reality. The mother and son story in the documentary crystallizes the reality into one of the most engaging and emotional 15/20 minutes ever caught on film.

  • feltzr

    Due to international broadcasting agreements, the episode is only available in the United States.

  • feltzr

    Due to international broadcasting agreements, many videos are only available in the United States. Web Exclusive video, however, can be viewed from anywhere in the world.

  • Beth

    Are the three ‘filmmakers’ actors? Surely it would be too dangerous for the actual individuals to appear in this film?

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