Forty-five years ago, Private First Class Joe Dresnok got fed up with the U.S. Army and decided to try his luck on the other side of the demilitarized zone, in North Korea.

A documentary crew in Beijing followed him in decades later, driven by curiosity over what had become of Dresnok and three other American soldiers who had married, raised families and become movie stars in Pyongyang.

Crossing the Line is the third film by Britons Daniel Gordon and Nicholas Bonner of VeryMuchSo Productions. Their previous works portrayed the North Korean team that played in the World Cup in 1966, and followed two young gymnasts training for North Korea's Mass Games extravaganza.

It was also the most difficult, because of continuing antagonism over the Korean War, Bonner said at a screening this week, even as a team of international inspectors toured North Korea's nuclear reactor and prepared to shut it down.

It's very difficult to be objective ... where one side sees it one way and the other sees it absolutely the other way.

While filming the families of the gymnasts, the crew sounded out their North Korean contacts about meeting the American defectors, now minor celebrities in their adopted homeland after playing token enemies in a series of war movies.

Two had already died, they were told, and there was little chance of gaining access to film the other two.

As it happened, shortly after filming began, one of the survivors, Charles Robert Jenkins, left North Korea with his daughters to rejoin his wife, a Japanese woman abducted by the North decades before and finally allowed to revisit her homeland.

Japanese sympathy for the family helped Tokyo broker a deal with the United States, whereby Jenkins served a cursory jail term for desertion and was then a free man.

But Jenkins' subsequent denunciation of North Korea -- and of Dresnok -- seemed a double betrayal to the man who stayed behind. Dresnok told the film makers that he was happy and well-treated in his adopted home.


Dresnok's love of his family and pride in his children came through in the film. North Korea's ideology of juche, or self-reliance, appealed to an orphan with an unhappy childhood in Virginia who had found it hard adhering to army discipline.

He's very interesting company but there are gaps we don't know about his past, Bonner said, even after 100 hours of filming Dresnok, his wife and sons, and fellow soldiers and friends.

Bonner said the two previous films had helped build trust and make Crossing the Line possible. Each project we've done has cut a little closer to the bone.

The North Koreans set up the interviews and contacts but did not censor the final film, he said. They met the widow and children of one of the defectors, Jerry Wayne Parrish, but were denied access to the widow of the fourth, Larry Allen Abshier.

The team was careful to take an even-handed approach to the war, sidestepping questions of who did what to whom and focusing on the American soldiers' life at the front.

The North Koreans can accept if you say 'in the West we say this, in the DPRK we say that'.

Unlike the first film, The Game of Their Lives, this one was unlikely to be shown widely in North Korea, Bonner said.

It premiered at South Korea's Busan International Film Festival and was later shown at the 2007 Sundance Festival. Further showings are planned for New York, and the movie will be released in Japan and South Korea later this summer.

Time spent with their subjects had allowed the team to capture the telling moment amidst the formality of interviews, Bonner said. North Koreans had been surprised by how much normal life had been captured in A State of Mind, the film about the gymnasts, he added.

Critics have charged the team with seeing only the happy families and full tables of food that North Korean minders want them to see. Bonner says, though, that time, patience and more time had allowed them to filter the staged moments and focus in on the real people who are their subjects.

You have to give us a bit of credit. We are not daft.