China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

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China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
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China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
Price: $19.95

China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, the latest documentary from DCTV's Jon Alpert and Matt O'Neill, details the aftermath of the earthquake that struck China's Sichuan Province in 2008. The earthquake killed over 70,000 people, 10,000 of which were the province's children. Alpert and O'Neill's documentary uncovers the sorrow, pain and outrage of the bereaved families as they cope with their loss and demand answers of the government.

China's Unnatural Disaster focuses on schools destroyed by the tragedy. At Fuxin Primary School, 127 students were killed, at Hanwang, 317, at XinJian, 438. The film begins only days after the schools' collapse as parents and families begin to deal with the calamity laid before them. As the dust settles, the community learns of the schools' "tofu-construction," shoddy building materials and practices employed to cut costs, and demands answers from the provincial government.

The vignettes are devastatingly poignant – a father who plays a treasured phone message on which his little girl sings a song, a mother who calls the tragedy “a lesson in blood” while weeping at the grave of her son. But the center of the documentary is the parents’ protest march to the regional capital, where audiences are given an astonishingly rare glimpse of how the Chinese government reacts to civil unrest. In a scene that has become iconic across China, a distraught communist party official gets on his knees imploring the marchers to turn around, but the parents rush past him, bursting through a line of police who have linked arms to block their path. As Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal, in this film, “there is more vivid testimony to the way the state party apparatus works to prevent any expression of dissent from reaching foreign news sources than any piece of reporting in memory.”

In China’s Unnatural Disaster, the most tragic and personal circumstances are portrayed in a respectful manner with a shocking intimacy. As Tom Shales wrote in the Washington Post, “artful but never artsy, as direct and natural as a conversation with a friend… China’s Unnatural Disaster might pack more power per moment of any documentary in recent memory.”

Garnering critical acclaim, the film was accepted into the Beijing Independent Film Festival and Alpert and O'Neill were invited to attend. However, China denied their visas, barring them entrance to the country. More information can be found here at The New York Times.

Release Date: 
2009

Credits

Director/Producer/Cinematography/Audio
Jon Alpert
Director/Producer/Cinematography/Audio
Matthew O'Neill
Producer
Peter Kwong
Producer
Michelle Mi
Producer
Ming Xia
Editor
Adam Barton
Editor/Colorist
John Custodio
For HBO: Supervising Producer
Jacqueline Glover
For HBO: Executive Producer
Sheila Nevins

Reviews

China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province .... is a heartbreaking example of what can only be called "Testimonial Television."
Los Angeles Times
Filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill, whose previous work includes "Baghdad ER," have done a good job of humanizing the disaster in Sichuan. The same cannot be said, by the evidence here, for Chinese officials.
New York Daily News
In these brief 45 minutes of filmmaking by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill, there is more vivid testimony to the way the state party apparatus works to prevent any expression of dissent from reaching foreign news sources than any piece of reporting in memory.
Wall Street Journal
Artful but never artsy, as direct and natural as a conversation with a friend, Unnatural Disaster is a uniquely powerful piece of work, typical of what we've come to expect from Sheila Nevins's documentary division of HBO but even more moving than most.
Washington Post
Bottom Line: Thought-provoking, multilayered, and challenging viewing.
The Hollywood Reporter
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