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Dragon is a human smuggler who leads North Korean defectors across borders for a living. His latest undercover trip with Sook-Ja and Yong-hee takes an unexpected turn when they are left stranded in China, putting their dramatic escape plan into question. Their perilous journey reflects the reality of tens of thousands of North Koreans currently in hiding in China. Filmed undercover by a Korean-Canadian filmmaker, Ann Shin gets intimate access with these three individuals in this POV film and explores universal questions about human rights, smuggling and the pursuit of freedom..
“The resulting undercover film is a testament to the trust Shin and crew developed with those escaping and may be the first documentary in the world to gain such intimate access to actual human smugglers.”
Freedom Fighter: Ann Shin
Christina Couch for Get In Media, 2014
"Shin said she hopes her film will help people understand more about North Korea while putting a human face on what defectors endure. Since Kim Jong-un’s appointment as leader, he has ordered even harsher crackdowns on escapees than his late father, Kim Jong-il. South Korean media reports in early 2012 said would-be defectors were being shot on sight by border guards."
Hot Docs: The Defector tracks a harrowing escape from North Korea
Linda Barnard for Toronto Star, April 2013
...film that exposes a part of the world that is often shielded...
The Defector: Escape from North Korea is a well-made film that exposes a part of the world that is often shielded so heavily we can only know through conjecture. It is exactly the kind of thing that is missing from contemporary journalism, and for filling that void, director Shin should be commended.
Doug Heller in Next Projection
...effective and engaging piece of embedded journalism
In crafting such an effective and engaging piece of embedded journalism, she has helped to expose not only the lives of those seeking a second chance but the market that exists in pushing those unfortunate souls in the right direction.
Kevin Scott in Exclaim!
Festival & Awards
International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) - 2012
Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival - 2013
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival - 2013
Hot Docs - 2013
Sausalito Film Festival - 2013
Sheffield Doc Fest - 2013
Adelaide International Film Festival - 2013
Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema - 2013
Ottawa One World Festival - 2013
Canadian Screen Awards - 2014
Best Documentary Program, Best Direction in a Documentary Program, Academy’s Diversity Award
NORTH KOREA DEVELOPED INTO the country we know today as a result of World War II, when Korea was divided between the Soviet Union which controlled the north, and the United States which occupied the south. The Korean War (1950-1953) saw an attempt to unify the country-albeit by force, but the border didn’t change much with the signing of the armistice. North Korea’s “Great Leader,” Kim Il-sung instituted a Stalinist state and effectively closed off North Korea from the rest of the world.
For the next two decades, from the 50s to the 70s, North Korea advanced with postwar reconstruction, modernization and the establishment of commune farms.
But quality of life in the country began to decline in the 80s. In the 90s the country’s economy collapsed at the same time crops failed, resulting in widespread famine. Some North Koreans began to flee as a means to survive, even though doing so was considered treasonous and punishable by torture and imprisonment in labour camps. Borders were strengthened, and the journey became increasingly riskier and
Today North Korea continues to be hobbled by dire socio-economic problems it attempts to hide from the world. But we know North Koreans are suffering-from hunger, poverty and lack of basic freedoms people in other countries take for granted.
NORTH KOREA BY THE NUMBERS
25.5 million – Total population 6 million – In need of food aid 200,000 – Detained in over 180 work camps 50,000 – Hiding in China 33.3 OUT OF 1000 – Deaths of children under 5 1 IN 4 – Are malnourished 23,500 – Defectors granted nationality in South Korea as of 2011
100,000 – Defectors estimated escaped since the late 1990s