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"I will solve this, I will probe completely," pleads party secretary Jiang Guohua, on his knees in the middle of the road as outraged parents stream by, photos of their dead children held high. "Probe your mother's c***"!" snarls an angry mother. Not a customary pose for a communist party apparatchik, nor a typical response of Chinese citizens to their masters - but directors Jon Alpert and Matt O'Neill caught it all on film.

This is one of several gripping scenes in their HBO documentary China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, to be broadcast in May, about the first of the Sichuan quakes which killed 69,000 people. The Richter grade eight tremor caused thousands of shabbily constructed schools to collapse, burying at least 10,000 children - though no one knows for sure.

This film is going to cause some serious heartburn for HBO fans in Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound. "You are not authorised as a foreigner to be here," scowled a Ministry of Public Security officer to Alpert's team. "If I see you in this village again I'll arrest you!" The HBO team had been put on notice that the Chinese government did not like the idea of foreigners with cameras nosing around the rubble.

"We demand an explanation!" chant the demonstrators as they march along the country road from rural Fuxin towards the provincial capital Chengdu. "The unsafe building killed our children," says a crying mother. As the camera pans over the ruins of the Fuxin school building, sheared columns reveal no reinforcing bars inside. Bricks are missing, substituted by flaky concrete. "We call this tofu construction," says one father bitterly.

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