Historic, Refugee, Immigration

Freedom Swimmers

by Gavin Huang

Documentary Short| 20:00 | Country of Origin: U.S.A. | Country of Filming: U.S.A. | May 2014 | Chinese, English Languages

FREEDOM SWIMMERS follows the personal journey of a second-generation Chinese American as he discovers his family’s remarkable immigration story, one they kept secret for decades. Archives and interviews slowly reveal that from the 1950s to ’70s, during Communist China’s most tumultuous years, his family was one of millions who fled the country by swimming to the British colony of Hong Kong. Why did they do it, and was the risk ultimately worth it?


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About the director

Gavin Huang is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Seoul. He is currently an editor at the Korea JoongAng Daily and co-host of the paper’s Front Page Podcast.

Gavin received his Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies from Dartmouth College. A New York native, his thesis was about his family’s complex migration story from China and Hong Kong to the United States

What was the best experience in making this film?

Getting to know my family. This was a very personal project for me, and before this documentary, my parents and relatives never talked about their previous lives in China, and I knew nothing of their history. While working on the film, I grew closer to them

In what ways did you grow as a filmmaker in making this film?

I grew as a documentarian and historian. One of my filmmaking influences is Ken Burns, for his way of telling stories and exploring histories through a critical examination of old documents. This film required a lot of archival research. I had to dig into news vaults, communist propaganda collections, troves of photographs and letters. I then had to find a way to best weave the research and the bigger historical ideas into my smaller narrative about one family’s journey..

What does this film contribute to the greater good?

The documentary touches on a historical narrative that is very rarely covered in textbooks, but it is an important part of Chinese history that has shaped the country’s society and politics. It is estimated that millions of asylum seekers made the swim from mainland China to the British colony between the 1960s and ’80s, and some of Hong Kong’s present-day titans of industry are thought to be refugees who made that journey, even though they may not openly admit it. Through the lens of one family’s story, this film takes a small step in understanding that larger historical narrative.

Screening Info

Date and Time:

Friday, September 09 | 8:15pm Р10pm


EMU Art Cinema- Classroom C

Screenings / Awards

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