Ursula K Le Guin documentary maker turns to Kickstarter for funds

Film-maker Arwen Curry launches appeal for funds to complete study of revered science fiction and fantasy author

The director of the first documentary to explore the “remarkable life and legacy” of the novelist Ursula K Le Guin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the last tranche of money needed for the film to go ahead.

Arwen Curry has filmed “dozens” of hours of interviews with Le Guin over the last seven years, capturing one of science fiction’s most respected authors in the “spectacular real-life places that inspired her fantastical worlds”, the director and producer said. The documentary, which also features interviews with Le Guin’s fans and fellow writers Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, will explore the novelist’s life, from her early years into becoming a writer Curry said is “one of the most important feminist voices on the American literary scene”.

Called Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin, the feature documentary was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities last summer, but the funds will only be released once the entire production budget for the project has been raised. So Curry has turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund the remaining $80,000 (£56,000) that the film needs in order to be completed.

With $6,000 already raised just hours after the fundraiser opened, and backers able to pledge everything from $15 for a Le Guin badge to $1,000 for a one-minute recording from the author responding to a query on writing or life, Curry said the Kickstarter “seems to be doing well so far”. “I based the goal on our need and on the campaigns of similar feature docs, particularly recent ones about Edgar Allan Poe and the Raisin in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry, both of which were also funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. So I’m hoping it’s a reasonable benchmark,” she said.

Curry described Le Guin, author of the much-loved Earthsea fantasy series, as an important influence in her life since she was young.

“Seven years is a long time to wave a camera in someone’s face. I’ve filmed Ursula in the now-infamous high desert of southeastern Oregon, on the rocky coast, and at her family’s home in the Napa Valley, where she first heard many of the legends and tales that would come to influence her fiction,” she said. “We’ve also filmed a lot in her living room, and shared some meals. As a person, she’s an incredibly wide-ranging but firmly planted person, and always paying attention. As a writer, she opened doors for generations of fans and younger writers, both inside and outside of genre fiction. She made that boundary porous in a way that enriched literature for all of us, without ever spitting on her genre roots.”

Chabon, interviewed for the film, which is due out in mid 2017, called Le Guin “one of the greatest writers the 20th-century American literary scene has produced”, saying that “each world, each planet, that she creates is a kind of experiment, a laboratory”.

“People always say ‘when did you decide you wanted to be a writer?’ And I never wanted to be a writer. I just wrote. It’s what I did. It’s the way my being was,” says Le Guin in another interview filmed by Curry. The author of novels including The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed also tells Curry that “any kind of imaginative fiction trains people to be aware that there are other ways to do things, other ways to be”.

“In the film, we’ll accompany Le Guin on an intimate journey of self-discovery as she comes into her own as a major feminist author, inspiring generations of women and other marginalised writers along the way. To tell this story, the film reaches into the past as well as the future – to a childhood steeped in the myths and stories of disappeared Native peoples Le Guin absorbed as the daughter of prominent California anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and author Theodora Kroeber,” writes Curry on her Kickstarter.

“Le Guin’s story allows audiences to reflect on science fiction’s unique role in American culture, as a conduit for our utopian dreams, apocalyptic fears, and tempestuous romance with technology. More than ever, we need to perform the kinds of thought experiments that Le Guin pioneered, to ask how we should behave as our technologies transform us beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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