When A City Falls: Movie Review
When A City Falls
Cast: The people of Canterbury
Director: Gerard Smyth
Sometimes, a film makes itself.
So it is with When A City Falls, the documentary film about the series of
earthquakes which rocked Canterbury this year and last, and changed our worlds
as New Zealanders forever.
Christchurch resident Gerard Smyth really didn't have to do much when they
hit - he simply picked up his camera and let the documentary make itself.
Basically made over an 12 month period and beginning with blue skies and
daffodils on the Canterbury plains, Smyth follows the events which unfold in the
Garden city and nearby. As Smyth's own voiceover at the start of the film
intones: "This is a film I could never have planned to make".
But what emerges is a grippingly, emotional piece on the human condition and
how we as human beings respond in times of tragedy and personal loss.
Also, what comes out is a deeply humbling study of what makes us Kiwis and
showcases the very best of human nature.
Smyth's strength in this film is the people around him. He's smart enough to
realise that this story is powerful enough to not need voiceover and limits it
to simply asking questions.
These are images from the quake which have haunted (and continue to do so)
many; but When A City Falls also benefits greatly from this approach by letting
the people involved tell the story rather than a pompous voiceover. That works
wonders by giving it a more original feel and an immediately identifiable
stranglehold on your emotions
Plus when the footage of that fateful day on 22nd February is shown, the
powerful ferocity of what unfolds is even more affecting because the screen
simply shows what happened.
Countless faces are caught in crowds, moments framed by time and the
film-makers; and the people Smyth uses are nameless but their stories are
universal and instantly recognisable as well as heartbreaking, humbling and
That's the thing with When A City Falls - there are a million stories to tell
and a million voices to be heard with an event such as this. And it would've
been easy to let it descend into doom and gloom.
But what's been done here ends up being uplifting in spirit and unique as we
follow everyday people trying to live their lives and cope with what nature
dealt to them thanks to help from strangers, their communities and from further
afield. The fact Smyth's had unfettered access to what was going on means a lot
of the footage is new to many of us but horribly recognisable in many ways.
Also, Smyth and his team choose to tackle some of the problems from the
quake; be it the arguments over heritage buildings' destruction, people's shops
torn down by accident and even heads to New Orleans and San Francisco to proffer
up some help for the region.
When A City Falls won't be an easy watch for those involved in this - but I'd
suggest it offers a little piece of healing up as it demonstrates quiet dignity
and moments of resilience and pure humanity that will shine through.
Truly inspirational and utterly important, this doco demands to be seen and
will ultimately stand as a testament to Cantabrians and this nation as a