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Undercover in the Fouzhou Province of China, a team of filmmakers initiate negotiations to bring Chinese slave labor into the United States. Shooting with a specially-designed hidden camera, slave traders, or snakeheads, are found on every corner, eager to bargain their fellow countrymen into indentured servitude. Snakeheads can be found even in the Chinese government. There is so much money in the trade that the crew was offered multimillion dollar bribes to facilitate business deals in the US. In fact, recent estimations from China conclude that there are over 100 million unemployed displaced Chinese workers desperately seeking a job. Given that the pool of potential illegal immigrants is so huge, and the system for getting them in is so efficient, some experts predict the U.S. will soon be inundated by Chinese immigrants in numbers unprecedented since almost 100 years ago.

What happens when the illegal transports arrive is tragic: workers struggle in an already strained American job market for 10 years or more, forced to make regular payments to their snakehead. If a worker misses payments, they are kidnapped and tortured until their family comes up with the money. Many who are caught sit in jails waiting for a lawyer to get them out. The influx creates tremendous tensions in established communities where, as in New York City's Chinatown, the competition for jobs between newcomers and long-term residents can lead to violence. Yet despite the risks, an endless pool of Chinese continue to dream of making the voyage to the land they call "The Golden Mountain."

Snakeheads: Chinese Mafia & the New Slave Trade profiles both the people who run the slave trade and those who are its victims, exploring the complicated issues of illegal immigration and sweatshop labor framed against a background of competing global economic forces. Given the squalid conditions under which indentured workers live once they arrive, as well as the instability created in their new communities, questions are raised about the economic forces and social policies at play which continue to allow the practice to occur.

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Ying Chan
Peter Kwong
Jon Alpert
John Custodio


Cine Golden Eagle Award
Asian American Journalists Association: 2nd Place
IDA: Distinguished Documentary Achievement, Honors