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Crossing the Line: a feature documentary

Film Screening followed by Q&A with producer Nicholas Bonner

Monday, November 10, 2008
4:00 PM - 6:30 PM
314 Royce Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Film Screening: Crossing the Line


This is the story of the last American defector in North Korea, James Joseph Dresnok. It’s a story of defection, kidnap, love, and political intrigue, all set and captured in the most secret and inaccessible country on earth: North Korea.

In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, four US soldiers defected to North Korea. None of the men had any idea what awaited them on the other side. No one knows why they defected, until now. Each man left his Southern border post in the demilitarised zone -the DMZ, a 2.5 mile wide patch of land that splits the Korean peninsula in half and is the most heavily fortified area on earth, packed with 2.5m land mines- and walked into an alien world. Dresnok and his unique band of brothers published propaganda pamphlets, telling the world how happy they were in 'the People's Paradise' and starred in propaganda films, vilifying US servicemen. They became North Korean national heroes.

The world knows of only one of these men: Charles Robert Jenkins. His story broke open in September 2002 when it was reported that one of the kidnapped Japanese nationals, Hitomi Soga, had married an American defector. What no one knew at that time, except for the filmmakers, was that a second American defector, James Joseph Dresnok, was alive. Jenkins now lives in Japan with his wife and daughters. He is a key part of the story but as much of it is now in the public domain, it is Dresnok who is the driving force of the film. Dresnok remains in North Korea and lives with his family in the capital city, Pyongyang, and has not had contact with outsiders since his defection in 1962.

Dresnok grew up a poor orphan in Virginia, and never finished high school. He had little choice but go to the army when after a first stint in West Germany, he was sent over to the most dangerous border in the world, the DMZ. Dresnok has now lived for 44 years in Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea, one of the most deeply anti-American societies in the world. He worked for the Korean People's Army as an English teacher, learned the language and the system.
For the first time, Dresnok tells his story.

In making the film, the filmmakers had astonishing access to Dresnok, his daily life in North Korea, his and the other defector families, and even the North Korean soldier who captured him in 1962. These sights have never been seen before to anyone outside North Korea, and even to most North Koreans.


The Korean War was a brutal and devastating conflict that in just three years cost some four million lives, many of them civilians. An armistice was signed in 1953 to end hostilities but the war was never officially over. In the early 60s, at the height of the Cold War, a further confrontation between North and South seemed inevitable and the DMZ was one of the most perilous postings for a US soldier. To those serving either side of the divide, the Korean War had, indeed, never ended. There were constant incidents and provocations.

And in a story that seems more Hollywood but is very real, four US Army soldiers sent to guard the DMZ and keep the peace would betray everything their country stood for: cross over and defect to North Korea.

Q&A with producer Nicholas Bonner


Director/screen writer. Currently in development for romantic comedy scheduled to be shot on location in Pyongyang September 2009 with North Korean crew and cast

'Crossing the Line' (2007) Co Producer. Documentary on the US soldiers who defected from South to North Korea in the 1960's, one of whom still lives in Pyongyang with his family. Screened at Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals.

'A State of Mind' (2005) Associate Producer. Documentary following the training and family life of two young girls in the lead up to the Pyongyang Mass Games Screened in both North and South Korea. Premiered in the USA at Tribeca Film Festival, nominated for the Norwegian Peace Film Award and various international awards.

'The Game of Their Lives' (2001) Associate Producer. Documentary on the North Korean World Cup team of 1966. Winner of the Royal Television Society award for best sports documentary, received a nomination for Best Historical Documentary at the Grierson Awards, Best Documentary at the British Independent Film Awards, first prizes at the Seville Film Festival



October 17, 2008-New York, NY- In the 1960s, four U.S. soldiers serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone crossed the most heavily fortified border on earth and defected to Communist North Korea. Trapped in the most secretive country on earth, their life was hidden from the outside world for 40 years. Not even the U.S. government knew their fate. James Joseph Dresnok, one of these four American defectors, is the only one who remains in North Korea today.

The UCLA Center for Korean Studies and The Korea Society have organized a special screening of Crossing the Line, a new documentary film that tells his story, to be held on Monday, November 10 at 4:00 PM at 314 Royce Hall on the UCLA Campus. The program will include a post-screening discussion led by the documentary's co-producer Nicholas Bonner who will talk about Dresnok, North Korea and the experience of filming a documentary in one of the least media-friendly environments in the world.

The filmmakers of Crossing the Line were allowed unprecedented access by the North Korean authorities to the subject of their documentary. They were permitted not only to interview Dresnok extensively but also to follow him through his daily life in Pyongyang. Their film, narrated by actor Christian Slater, presents a story that the New York Daily News has called "fascinating" and "unforgettable."

The UCLA screening is the ninth stop on a nationwide Crossing the Line screening and discussion tour organized by The Korea Society. Since October 27, the documentary has screened at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Berkeley. On Wednesday, November 12 at 6:15 PM, Crossing the Line will make its final tour stop at UC Santa Barbara's McCune Conference Center.

Directions and Parking

Take the 405 Fwy and exit Sunset Blvd. Head east on Sunset Blvd. for one mile. Make a right onto Westwood Plaza and enter underground parking lot. Attendants at the parking/information booth will direct you to the closest parking structure. Parking is $9.

Open to the Public/Refreshments will be served

Cost : Free

Sponsor(s): Center for Korean Studies, USC Korean Studies Institute, Korea Society

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