This thoughtful documentary chronicles the ongoing struggles of passengers who were aboard the Golden Venture, an ill-named immigrant smuggling ship, when it ran aground near New York City in 1993. Passengers had paid at least $30,000 to be smuggled to the U.S. from China's Fujian Province, expecting to arrive indebted but unnoticed. But a seemingly golden opportunity quickly evolved into a hellish descent through the cruel whims of U.S. immigration policy. The Golden Venture crash fed a media circus and became a symbol of a growing national concern over illegal immigration, fueled by the first attempt to topple the World Trade Center, also in 1993. Many passengers were deported over a two-year period, while others were detained for up to four years as their cases for asylum languished in court. Meanwhile, the would-be immigrants turned to art to soothe their uncertainties, producing, from prison, an astonishing number of elegant sculptures made of nothing more than magazines, cardboard, and homemade glue. With the unwavering support of two legal advocates, a bill now sits in Congress to grant permanent legal residence to Golden Venture passengers in the U.S. who still face deportation. Their lawyer notes: "When this first started out I said, 'Ten or fifteen years from now, we'll look back on this moment in our history in shame.' Well, we're almost twelve years post-Golden Venture, and the same…abusive policies are still in place." At a time when detainment without trial is again a flashpoint of public debate, the fate of the Golden Venture passengers is more relevant than ever.
Golden Venture is New York-based writer and filmmaker Peter Cohn's first documentary. Cohn began his career at the Richmond Times Dispatch and then at the Hartford Courant. In 1995, he produced, cowrote, and directed his first feature narrative Drunks, a film set in a Manhattan Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, starring Richard Lewis, Faye Dunaway, and Parker Posey. Drunks screened at Sundance 1996, premiered on Showtime, and was released in 1997 to critical acclaim. In 1997, Drunks won the motion picture industry's Prism Award, in recognition of the film's realistic depiction of alcohol and drug addiction. Cohn has written screenplays for Fox, Disney, MGM, and a wide range of US and European independent producers.