Hard News by Russell Brown

90

When A City Falls

TVNZ's reviewer called it "truly inspirational and utterly important". The Christchurch Star's reviewer described it as "a moving, raw look at everything that's happened to our city since September 4." The BBC World Service has covered it. The Nelson Mail described it as "both harrowing and compulsory viewing". Marty Duda said it had "a sense of immediacy rarely achieved on projects like this." And in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Calder gave it four stars and called it a "moving testament to the people of the munted city."

So why was there a grand total of five of us in the theatre for Gerard Smyth's Christchurch earthquake documentary When A City Falls at St Lukes yesterday evening? Another screening yesterday evening attracted a grand total of two paying punters. This really isn't good enough, Auckland.

The film is not perfect. It's necessarily uneven and at 105 minutes it's 10 or 15 minutes too long. It was completed quickly and Smyth admits it was only the good counsel of friends that forced him to cut it back as much as he did (he has many more hours in the can).

Calder is right to say that the visits at the end of the film to look at reconstruction efforts in San Francisco, New Orleans and Portland (which suffered only the trauma of conventional urban decay) "seem jarring, not just because they are so fleeting. They make room for some high-sounding platitudes that are so conspicuously absent from the film as a whole."

Indeed. This film is, as Smyth puts it, "the people's story", and it brings us up close to the experience of people in the worst-hit areas of the city: how they coped, what they lost, who they lost and -- perhaps most importantly -- what they did off their own damn backs to make things better.

I grew up in Christchurch and I've been back five times since last September. I've circled the CBD Red Zone and cycled sadly through the empty neighbourhoods of Avonside, and later entered the Red Zone itself. I have friends still reeling from the impact on their lives. I'd even seen chunks of the film and interviewed the director. But I still felt closer to the actual experience of people like me after watching it. I cried several times in the dark.

The film's ultimately uplifting theme of renewal tallies with the feeling I got on my last visit. But it's more than that -- it's renewal driven by the people on the streets; the gapfillers and the rubble-greeners. It will take the big iron of government to restore infrastructure and recompense homeowners, but it's people who push the pace.

When A City Falls will turn up eventually on TV3, but it is a cinematic documentary and the distributors' considerable leap of faith in giving it nationwide theatrical release deserves reward.

Really, just go and see this film.

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