SI Live – Ming Xia, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island, still remembers his feelings while visiting his home town in the rural Sichuan Province of China after the 2008 earthquake that killed 70,000 people, including 10,000 children, for a documentary.

“It was heartbreaking seeing all the devastation,” said Xia, who’s been living in Willowbrook since 1997, said. “It was a heartbreaking experience.”

Last Monday, the documentary that Xia worked on as a producer and translator, HBO’s “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province,” was one of five films nominated for an Oscar in the short documentary category.

Xia got involved with the project after his friend, Peter Kwan, saw pictures of China on Xia’s Web site and asked him to join the four man team to China. The team set out 10 days after the earthquake to try to document the devastation afterwards. He worked as a translator — speaking the local dialect — and cultural guide for the crew.

“We went through two days and did not get any human stories,” said Xia, instead only finding rubble. On the third day, they asked villagers for stories and were told by one of a school that collapsed, killing 120 students — mostly fourth and fifth graders.

The crew then followed the parents of the children, who created a memorial at the school and began marches and protests for their children.

“We saw marches of parents who lost their children,” Xia said. “That’s how we got (our footage) for the week.”

However, documenting the struggles of these parents wasn’t easy for the team.

“The government didn’t want us to be there,” said Xia. “(They) threatened to arrest us (so we) tried to avoid them.”

The team returned to America with 58 hours of footage that Xia began to translate and subtitle while working with the editors.

“The whole movie doesn’t have commentary,” Xia said. “(We) only use their stories.”

Originally, they planned to make a two-hour documentary, but during editing, Sheila Nevins, the executive producer for the movie and President for HBO Documentary, said it was Oscar material, so they started working on making the film fit Oscar guidelines.

“(It’s) very exciting,” Xia said about the nomination. “I’m not a filmmaker, I’m a professor.”

By Nicholas Rizzi, Staten Island Advance Staff Writer. This story appeared first on and and the Staten Island Advance on February 8, 2010, and is reprinted here with permission.