Hard News by Russell Brown


Walking upright again

I have visited Christchurch twice since the earthquake of February 22. I returned from the first visit -- when I borrowed a bike and rode around the cordon of the CBD Red Zone -- profoundly sobered and with some real sense of the trauma that had befallen people there. I wondered how some people would cope. Even whether the place could recover.

After visiting again last week, I still wonder how some people will cope, but I think I saw the recovery underway.

The primary purpose of our visit was to cover for Media7 the launch of CEISMIC, a comprehensive digital archive of stories, in whatever form they may come, from Christchurch's earthquakes. It's a project remarkable for its scope -- they talk in terms of hundred-year time-frames -- and its inclusive design.

Jose Barbosa and I wound up making an entire show on the hoof in a day and a half. The programme also features an interview with CERA CEO Roger Sutton. We visited the CERA office, in the HSBC building, where the reception area seems consciously designed to offer reassurance that Things Are Underway. There are three meeting rooms visible from the waiting area, and another high table adjacent to it, where a small group was in discussion while we were there.

And yet, people justifiably feel that it all moves too slow and that CERA cannot or will not tell them what they need to know. Sutton talks about that in the interview, and also responds to criticism from Press photographer Dean Kozanic about restrictions on media access to the Red Zone. He confessed to me that if he had the time again, he would have done it differently.

It didn't make the cut in the show, but I also pointed out to Sutton that I'd read on the internet that he had tendered his resignation three times. Had he read that? Yes, he said, on Trade Me. And no, he said, it wasn't true.

Things are certainly more permissive now. We got our visit to the Red Zone. I felt a little guilty that we were able to fly in, get our passes and have a look around when only very few Christchurch people have had that chance. We saw the Grand Chancellor in its stubborn, munted pose, but it was the small sights that were haunting; the stock left in one shop window, the naked mannequins turning slowly in the wind in another. The space where the CTV building stood and fell.

One of the more cheering things was the sense that if the wheels of officialdom were grinding terribly slow, individuals were making pace. I spoke to Coralie Winn of Gapfiller, the group resonsible for the "book fridge", a free, open, community book exchange (in a stand-up chiller from a burger bar) that I can testify is genuinely used. Three people exchanged books while we were shooting the interview.

Rhys Taylor, coordinator of the partner group Greening the Rubble -- like Coralie, on a modest council contract-- wandered by and pointed out the vacant sections due for greening.

I also interviewed Gerard Smyth, director of the earthquake documentary When a City Falls, which premieres on November 16 at the repaired Reading Cinema in the Palms shopping centre in Shirley (the choice of an eastern suburbs venue is not accidental) and opens in theatres nationwide on November 24.

I have only seen parts of the film, but I think it will be pretty special. As Gerard says in the opening seconds, it was "a film I could never have planned to make" -- indeed, even his first plans were laid waste by the February quake -- but what it is, is a film about being there. Smyth was born just a few blocks from where he lives now, on Oxford Terrace, where most of the houses are abandoned. He told me he shot much of the film within a hundred metres of home.

Media7 screens at 9.05pm tonight on TVNZ 7. It'll be available on demand here shortly after it airs.

For now, here's the trailer for When A City Falls.

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