China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

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

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January 25, 2012
Short, but powerful; the documentary tackles the issues of Communist China's one child policy, censorship, and corruption in the face of a devastating earthquake that killed scores of children. Raw emotion of the parents is captured, as they seek answers in a place where people do not question the government. A must watch for anyone interested in natural disasters, human rights, or international affairs.
January 6, 2012
The sad truth is that CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE is not just a sad and sobering account of the earthquake that hit mainland China in May of 2008. It is now, in these times, a representation of a number of natural disasters that have occurred around the world in the past few years: in Haiti, in Chile. This short film, nominated for the Documentary Short Oscar, is a crushing signpost of the times, an example and not an exception.

To say that CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER is gut-wrenching and hard to watch is a gross understatement. The film focuses in particular on the loss of children. Of the 70,000 lives lost in this particular earthquake, the film says, 10,000 of the dead were children. The film opens with parents urging their daughter to say goodbye to her classmates and say a prayer for their souls as she stands in front of the rubble of what was once her school. Fat tears cascade down her round face. As a viewer, you hope you won't have to watch more of this, but it's just the beginning. Locations where schools once stood are now transformed into makeshift altars where framed 11x17 photographs of the lost children sit bunched up on tables.

Much as the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina was met with criticism by many citizens, so too is the Chinese government's response to this disaster met with anger and confusion. Much of CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER focuses on questions and accusations on the part of the parents of children who attended schools in buildings that were known to be structurally weaker than surrounding buildings that withstood the earthquake. Some families complain that the military and rescue efforts completely passed their towns by in favor of areas they believed were more damaged or affected. One can't watch this film without thinking about Katrina, even though the devastation here is a much magnified version of what we experienced in New Orleans. The film's title indicates that the disaster was "unnatural" because the parents, in their grief, band together to blame the shoddy construction of the schools for their losses. Not every building, after all, fell to the earthquake.

In just under 40 minutes, CHINA'S NATURAL DISASTER shows us how individual families are dealing with their grief and unanswered questions as the filmmakers tour the region's schools, listing the numbers of the dead along with the names of each school. Because of China's strict reproduction policies, due to their country's dense population, we are told that most families lost their only child. Their compensation from the government? $317. Not even enough to cover burial expenses, as many families are seen at grave sites they chose themselves, sometimes even making their own coffins and being responsible for burying their children with their own hands. And they are the lucky ones; many more families never recovered the bodies of their children from the piles of rubble. The government eventually offers an option that gives families $8800, but it comes with a promise that the families pledge their allegiance to the government and swear to cause no further problems.

CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER received some publicity due to the hostility the film received from the Chinese government after its release. A country with one of the tightest controls over information in the world, China does not take kindly to such a document of criticism and scrutiny as this. And for every teardrop in the film, there seems to be a moment of gnashed teeth as the government officials shown in the film are shown as passive and mute while parents wail with questions and demand answers. No country's government would want to be seen in such a light, but you watch the film with a sense of justice being served. You feel like people need to know, and not just the Chinese, but a global community. If this happened here, what is happening in other areas recently affected by such disasters?

This is good, old-fashioned, search-for-justice film making. Though it's hard to watch, at the end of CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER you feel better for having seen it because you feel like you've been made aware of a horrible secret that's been kept from you. It is also, however, documentary film making of the manipulative and persuasive variety, a tip of the hat to Michael Moore's governmental conspiracy theories. The makers of this film are clear in their efforts to convince viewers that this was a human rights violation more than a natural disaster. The evidence presented feels overwhelming, and it is perhaps the reputation of the oppressive and elusive Chinese government that makes it almost impossible for our sympathies to lie anywhere else than with the parents of these dead children. Yes, it is manipulative. But the evidence feels conclusive. One problem I have with many documentaries is a strong feeling that the other side of an issue is severely underrepresented. It's hard to feel that here.
August 21, 2011
The ending part is not the truth...
½ September 24, 2010
A short documentary about an earthquake that killed thousands of people in China - a huge number of those happened to be children in school when the quake hit. The schools appear to have been built cheaply and improperly which caused the failure. The parents march in protest to get answers but only find government officials who are silent or try to divert their attention. The film does seem rather satisfied in condemning the whole of the goverment than probing deeper. The images of families losing their children are heartbreaking.
½ July 1, 2010
An interesting yet sad Oscar nominated short documentary about the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China. It was nice to see this horrific and now already forgotten event get some attention. I liked seeing the strong families attempting to go after the Chinese government to seek justice and an apology for the loss of their children to unbelievably poorly constructed schools. Unfortunately the government tried numerous times to stop their peaceful march and pay off the families to keep them quiet.
April 3, 2010
The sad truth is that CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE is not just a sad and sobering account of the earthquake that hit mainland China in May of 2008. It is now, in these times, a representation of a number of natural disasters that have occurred around the world in the past few years: in Haiti, in Chile. This short film, nominated for the Documentary Short Oscar, is a crushing signpost of the times, an example and not an exception.

To say that CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER is gut-wrenching and hard to watch is a gross understatement. The film focuses in particular on the loss of children. Of the 70,000 lives lost in this particular earthquake, the film says, 10,000 of the dead were children. The film opens with parents urging their daughter to say goodbye to her classmates and say a prayer for their souls as she stands in front of the rubble of what was once her school. Fat tears cascade down her round face. As a viewer, you hope you won't have to watch more of this, but it's just the beginning. Locations where schools once stood are now transformed into makeshift altars where framed 11x17 photographs of the lost children sit bunched up on tables.

Much as the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina was met with criticism by many citizens, so too is the Chinese government's response to this disaster met with anger and confusion. Much of CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER focuses on questions and accusations on the part of the parents of children who attended schools in buildings that were known to be structurally weaker than surrounding buildings that withstood the earthquake. Some families complain that the military and rescue efforts completely passed their towns by in favor of areas they believed were more damaged or affected. One can't watch this film without thinking about Katrina, even though the devastation here is a much magnified version of what we experienced in New Orleans. The film's title indicates that the disaster was "unnatural" because the parents, in their grief, band together to blame the shoddy construction of the schools for their losses. Not every building, after all, fell to the earthquake.

In just under 40 minutes, CHINA'S NATURAL DISASTER shows us how individual families are dealing with their grief and unanswered questions as the filmmakers tour the region's schools, listing the numbers of the dead along with the names of each school. Because of China's strict reproduction policies, due to their country's dense population, we are told that most families lost their only child. Their compensation from the government? $317. Not even enough to cover burial expenses, as many families are seen at grave sites they chose themselves, sometimes even making their own coffins and being responsible for burying their children with their own hands. And they are the lucky ones; many more families never recovered the bodies of their children from the piles of rubble. The government eventually offers an option that gives families $8800, but it comes with a promise that the families pledge their allegiance to the government and swear to cause no further problems.

CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER received some publicity due to the hostility the film received from the Chinese government after its release. A country with one of the tightest controls over information in the world, China does not take kindly to such a document of criticism and scrutiny as this. And for every teardrop in the film, there seems to be a moment of gnashed teeth as the government officials shown in the film are shown as passive and mute while parents wail with questions and demand answers. No country's government would want to be seen in such a light, but you watch the film with a sense of justice being served. You feel like people need to know, and not just the Chinese, but a global community. If this happened here, what is happening in other areas recently affected by such disasters?

This is good, old-fashioned, search-for-justice film making. Though it's hard to watch, at the end of CHINA'S UNNATURAL DISASTER you feel better for having seen it because you feel like you've been made aware of a horrible secret that's been kept from you. It is also, however, documentary film making of the manipulative and persuasive variety, a tip of the hat to Michael Moore's governmental conspiracy theories. The makers of this film are clear in their efforts to convince viewers that this was a human rights violation more than a natural disaster. The evidence presented feels overwhelming, and it is perhaps the reputation of the oppressive and elusive Chinese government that makes it almost impossible for our sympathies to lie anywhere else than with the parents of these dead children. Yes, it is manipulative. But the evidence feels conclusive. One problem I have with many documentaries is a strong feeling that the other side of an issue is severely underrepresented. It's hard to feel that here.
½ March 7, 2010
This was incredibly intense from the very first seconds of footage. Almost every frame of this film is heartbreaking, it makes you want to scream. Though the film wasn't without breaks in the tension...during an attempt to quiet the protesting parents, an official promises that "I will probe completely" to which an angry mother responds "Probe your mother's cunt."
March 4, 2010
The matter is important enough but the authors made very little effort to put the footage together properly and the interviews are just crying.
February 27, 2010
Extremely powerful documentary about the grief of parents that lost their children because of poorly constructed school buildings in a country where, according to the government, pride of the country is more important. China proves, yet again, to have a rediculous government that loves lies and knows no shame.
February 20, 2010
A understandable drama, but there was nothing to initiate, so I feel it was a disappointing documentary
½ February 12, 2010
Oscar Nominated Documentary Short 2009
Short film documents the aftermath of an Earthquake in a rural province in China that claimed the lives of 70,000 people, 10,000 of which were children. The film focuses on the lost children and the effect on the parents which is given more resonance considering China's one child law and the fact that most people were burying their only child. The film then goes on to explore government corruption. Successful as a short but even begins to drag at 38 minutes. Still it is an important story that I don't recall hearing about in the news.
½ February 4, 2010
Being a short subject, it can't go as deep into the issue of oppressive, corrupt government as would be necessary, but the film does make a strong case for the democratic impetus of the Chinese people and tells a sobering story of loss and a deadly bureaucratic machine in a compelling, unassuming way.
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