When A City Falls – Director: Gerard Smyth

I thought I’d reached my saturation point when it came to stories about the Christchurch earthquake. I found myself fast-forwarding past most recent news stories that were covering events related to the quake. When I heard there was a documentary already produced about the quake, I expected it to be a quickly-stitched together bit of overly-emotional drivel featuring badly-shot news footage. After seeing When A City Falls I realized I was wrong on all counts.

 Director Gerard Smyth and his crew began shooting this film in September 2010 and finished a year later. Rather than being made after the fact, this documentary was made as the events were taking place. Needless to say, this gives the film a sense of immediacy rarely achieved on projects like this.

 Smyth has made several key decisions in making When A City Falls. The most notable is not using a narrator to tell us what’s happening.  Instead the director counts on a few well-place graphics and plenty of man-on-the-street interviews to tell his story. One gets the impression that Smyth and his crew spent hours walking through the affected area talking to just about everyone he encountered until he got a representative picture of what happened.

But the storytelling is probably even more articulate visually. Smyth and cinematographer Jacob Bryant shot most of the footage and it looks stunning. And as expected, much of it is heartbreaking, such as the scene showing the demolition of much of Lyttleton. Smyth doesn’t need to be overdramatic with his presentation the people and the pictures speak for themselves.

 Watching this film, after seeing so much coverage on the television news highlights the difference between the two mediums. Smyth’s film puts the events in context and gives a very moving picture of what happened and how people were affected. Occasionally the news footage did the same thing, but it seemed much more haphazard and gratuitous.

 Whether or not you lived through the Canterburyearthquakes, no doubt you come away from this film with a very different understanding of what it was like to go through the on-going trauma that is still going on there. The cinema was a very quiet place when the final credits rolled at the end of When A City Falls.

 Marty Duda

Click here to watch the trailer for When A City Falls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIlxoV6uG3Q