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An Interview with Arwen Curry, The Driving Force Behind the Documentary “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin”

ArewenCurryArwen Curry (Director & Producer) has spent her career working on films about game-changing creative Americans. She was Associate Producer and Archivist of the PBS American Masters film EAMES: The Architect and the Painter (2011). She also associate-produced American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco (2013), and the acclaimed HBO film Regarding Susan Sontag (2014). Between 2012 and 2014, Arwen worked on five 30-minute science and technology documentaries for San Francisco’s PBS member station KQED, on subjects ranging from reawakening extinct species to the new era of space exploration. Her short documentary Stuffed took viewers into the lives and homes of compulsive hoarders to better understand our connection to the things we own. She is an SF Bay Area native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she studied documentary film with Jon Else (The Day After Trinity), Debbie Hoffmann and Frances Reid (The Times of Harvey Milk). Arwen was editor of the punk magazine Maximum Rock’n’Roll from 1998 to 2004. She also writes for magazines, radio, and film.

Arwen is also the Director & Producer of the new Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin Kickstarter, a feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of the groundbreaking 86-year-old author. We had the opportunity to talk with Arwen about this exciting project.

SF SIGNAL: Hi, Arwen. How and why did you get into filmmaking?

Arwen Curry: My career as a filmmaker has been tied up with the Ursula K. Le Guin documentary since the beginning, though it took me down various other paths first. I first began dreaming of the film as I was starting the documentary film program at UC Berkeley, and every film I’ve worked on since has in some way been preparing me for it. I’m grateful to have had the experience of helping produce “Regarding Susan Sontag” and the EAMES film as we get Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin off the ground, with the help of the NEH and, hopefully, the Kickstarter backers. Of course, it wouldn’t be happening at all without Ursula’s participation.

SFS: How were you first introduced to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin?

AC: I loved the Earthsea books when I was a kid — what child (or adventurous adult) could resist them? But the first Le Guin novel I thought about deeply was The Lathe of Heaven, in which the protagonist’s vivid dreams change reality. It’s still my father’s favorite, and I remember talking with him about it and finally coming to understand how reality was subjective, and constantly shifting under our feet the way it does for poor George Orr in the book.

SFS: What sets her apart from other writers?

AC: Le Guin goes anywhere she wants to, as a writer. She doesn’t let anyone pen her in or tell her who she is or what she’s supposed to write. This seems to me exceedingly rare. She’s wide-ranging, brave, and morally thorough without pressing any kind of program. For example, when there was unfinished business in Earthsea after the first three novels, because the marginalized people there didn’t have much of a voice, she went back and wrote three more gorgeous books so that we could hear what they had to say.

SFS: At what point did you realize she would be a great subject for a documentary?

AC: I had the idea to approach Ms. Le Guin about the documentary when I was just leaving my post as coordinator of the punk magazine Maximum Rocknroll and preparing to attend the Journalism grad program at UC Berkeley – that was 2004. I had begun thinking about the living writers who meant the most to me. Le Guin was on top of the list, but it wasn’t until I began doing my research that I understood how rich and relevant her story really was.

SFS: You’ve been laying the groundwork for this documentary for seven years. What you’ve done so far and what’s left to do?

AC: We’ve done most of the shooting with Ms. Le Guin, and now need to follow up with some of the other writers she came up with and those she’s influenced along the way. We have about three months of production to go, and another eight or so of post-production. I can’t wait to sit down with our editor and start putting it all together.

SFS: Whose help have you enlisted in filming Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin?

AC: There’s a long list of generous people who have helped me get to this point. Cinematographers Andy Black and John Kiffmeyer, for starters, shot for free or at slashed rates at the beginning, and people like Erin Yanke and Katie Burkart offered their couches and meals when I came to Portland to film. There are many, many others who helped. And I’m still asking! It’s going to take many hands to get us to the Kickstarter goal, though I’m confident we can get there.

SFS: What do you hope viewers will take away from your documentary?

AC: I think we all have something to learn from Ursula K. Le Guin: as readers, as fans, as people. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to spend time with her, and I’m excited to share that experience with viewers.

SFS: Thanks, Arwen!

Readers are invited to watch the project video below and visit the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin Kickstarter page.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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