'China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province'


The Sichuan Province earthquake a year ago killed 70,000 people, including 10,000 children. It would have been horrible enough if that was an unavoidable body count, but as "China's Unnatural Disaster" proves, so many children never had to die.

The HBO documentary shows building after building still standing, often office buildings and shops, right next to a pile of rubble that used to be a school. "Tofu construction," says one local, while another holds up a brick and brushes off the dusty "mortar" affixed to its side.

"Disaster" follows several locals as their grief turns outward into protest. All they want is reassurance from their government that this can't happen again. Instead, they are stonewalled and ignored.

The footage is riveting and at times difficult to watch, but this is important viewing. At 40 minutes the doc feels abbreviated, ending before most of the threads pursued in the main story conclude, but that's a minor quibble. Instead, it works on multiple levels: In revealing the raw deal the people of Sichuan got, it underscores the importance of rights taken for granted in the West. Without them, we're just one rubber stamp or shoddy construction job away from our own unnatural disaster. (partialdiff)