Experience the Defector (via One Free Korea) is an interactive documentary about the experiences of North Korean defectors fleeing from a North Korean prison camp through China to Thailand – unsuccessfully.
Korean-Canadian filmmaker Ann Shin has gone where very few have before in her quest to pull back the curtain on North Korea in her feature The Defector: Escape from North Korea and its companion online web doc. The documentary follows the perilous journey of two women as they attempt to defect to China. While hundreds of North Koreans attempt to flee their country each year (and with Kim Jung Un proving to be more ruthless that his father to those who are caught), only a handful make it to neighboring China, risking imprisonment and torture. Once in China, however, the story is still bleak: The majority of women who escape their homeland are forced into the Chinese sex trade, while many others are arrested by the Chinese government and sent home. If they don’t die along the way.
o tell this story, Shin centers the film’s narrative on Dragon, a human smuggler, who, along with a string of shady underground figures, guides defectors along the 3,000-mile journey to freedom in safe haven countries like Laos. But as with any documentary, there’s far more to the story than can fit in a feature-length film. To further the narrative, Shin along with Toronto cross-platform digital shops Fathom Film Group and Jam3 created an interactive experience that tells the story from the point of view of the defectors themselves.
The online experience itself is composed of several legs, each starting with a hyper-stylized video or animation (created by Pysop) before morphing into lonely, 360-degree locations that includes video, pictures, and narration. The story–based on true accounts of North Korean Defectors–starts with an escapee being caught in a jungle and being thrown in a prison, and moves to Pyongyang, where the two sides of North Korean life are shown, the Tumen River crossing, a farm house in China, a safe house and brothel, and then finally, back to the jungle. “The end of the experience is indeed somewhat somber as you realize that the story is all one terrible cycle,” say Belina. “We felt it was a way to represent how the issue of North Koreans defectors is ongoing and at the moment without an end.”
This documentary is about so much more than the North Koreans. It’s about sex trafficking and a culture of misogyny in the region. And, it’s about a future where movie-viewing will involve more than just sitting in a dark church-like crypt huddled with other believers before an over-sized two-dimensional moving image.