Unlike previous disasters in China, the Sichuan earthquake was extensively documented in images and film, leaving behind an archive of national trauma unparalleled in Chinese contemporary history. This essay examines 16 documentary films produced by 10 filmmakers in the wake of the disaster. These visual testimonies help preserve individual memories of a traumatic event that to a large extent is unaccounted for in the official media and cultural productions.
Parents and bystanders were among the first to provide footage of the Sichuan earthquake, shakily recorded on their mobile phones and camcorders. In contrast to earlier natural disasters, such as the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, the Sichuan earthquake has been extensively documented in images and on film. To date, at least 10 filmmakers have produced 16 independent documentary films on the earthquake and its aftermath. Many filmmakers ended up tracing the ways in which people coped with their experiences during months and even years following the disaster.