China censors Oscar nom mentions

Sichuan quake documentary omitted from official reports

BEIJING -- China's official media censored Oscar nominations coverage, cutting mention of the selection of an HBO documentary about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

The 39-minute film, "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province," by Matthew O'Neil and Jon Alpert, is up for an award for Best Documentary, short subject, on March 7.

It follows several groups of grieving Chinese parents protesting Communist Party officials' stonewalling accusations that corruption led to shoddy construction, ultimately resulting in the children's deaths.

An English-language report in the state-run Global Times mentioned the film's nomination on Thursday, while the few Chinese-language mentions -- in online reports turned up via search engine Baidu and on Web portal -- cut the words "unnatural disaster" from the translated title.

Official Oscar nominee reports by the Xinhua News Agency and other state-run media omitted the HBO film altogether. Beijing censors regularly command editors to tailor news to the one-party government's view of what is okay for the public to read.

Chinese media, like mainstream media around the world, tend to focus the bulk of its Oscars coverage on celebrities.

"This time, they stayed away from documentaries entirely because it's two American filmmakers making a documentary about a very sensitive Chinese subject," said Ruby Yang, the Chinese-American director of the 2007 Oscar-winning AIDS documentary "The Blood of Yingzhou District."

Yang's 2007 Oscar acceptance speech for her film about China's AIDS problem was cut from China Central Television's nationwide broadcast but shown on smaller regional channels, she said.

In the HBO film about the Sichuan quake, one interviewee calls government-built schools "tofu construction," while another holds up a brick to show how easy it was to brush off the "mortar" that failed to hold the buildings up.

Nearly 70,000 people were killed in the quake, including at least 5,335 children, according to official data released a year after the disaster.

The HBO film was programmed into the September Beijing Independent Documentary Film Festival but ran into problems when the filmmakers were invited to China to present their work.

"During the showing we had no problem, but when we invited the filmmakers they were denied a visa by the government," said Zhu Rikui, programmer for the annual event.

Yang said that other recent documentaries about China, such as "Petition" by director Zhao Liang, which screened at Cannes last year, and "14:28," another film about the Sichuan quake, were signs that the medium was strong despite adverse conditions.

"There are a lot of good documentaries made in China each year, but as they often touch on sensitive topics they're unlikely to get much coverage," Yang said.