The 53-minute film Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, directed by Arwen Curry, has been available for occasional screenings in various cities for several months. The film aired last night on PBS’s American Masters series, and is available for free streaming here.
I had the opportunity to see a rough cut of the film in 2016, and a screening of the final version this past spring. I will be streaming the movie and watching it again this month, because I don’t feel like I really saw it the first time: so much of Le Guin’s history is bound up with my own life, and so many people (other than Le Guin herself) who were part of my life at one time or another are in the movie — and many of them are dead. So I watched the film, but much of my mind was wandering down various memory lanes, and I can’t really say much about it that’s coherent.
Ursula Le Guin was an absolutely fascinating human being, as well as being a brilliant writer of both fiction and nonfiction. I think the standard narrative is that Arwen Curry was lucky to get the opportunity to direct this movie and, while that is true, I think Le Guin was also lucky (or at least wise) to agree to give Curry the opportunity. The film’s fondness for Le Guin shows through in almost every frame. We would expect respect, admiration, and even delight — and we get all of those. But not every documentarian would have the skill and the wherewithal to show affection for her subject — and Curry does this while avoiding hero-worship, and maintaining a good film-maker’s distance.
At least based on what I took in the first two times, Le Guin comes through in this movie as complex, nuanced, occasionally sharp-tongued, and extraordinarily clear-sighted. Curry’s decision to portray some of the key books of Le Guin’s oeuvre with animations is daring, and I thought it worked.
When I watch it again, I’ll be watching for directorial choices and narrative decisions: I hope I’ll be able to separate myself from my own past enough to really do the film justice.
If you’re interested in — Le Guin, writing, science fiction, fantasy, academic families, the American west, natural landscapes, or, well, so many other things — check this out while you can.