Arwen Curry is a filmmaker on a serious mission. She has long been a researcher and fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, the Portland-based and globally respected fantasy and science fiction novelist (although she preferred to be called a novelist) whose prolific body of work has had a wide and lasting influence on generations of writers. Le Guin died in January at the age of 88 in Portland.
Curry’s film, “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin,” won a grant towards finishing the film from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and crowd-funded the rest through a Kickstarter campaign. The filmmaker gained access to Le Guin over a period of years, spending time with the celebrated author in various locales around the Beaver State and at Le Guin’s family home in
the Napa region of California. The film — which features commentary from Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and others — will show with Curry in attendance at the Ashland Independent Film Festival’s “Varsity World Film Week” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12. I caught up with Curry to talk about the process.
JG: What led you to this project?
AC: I was an avid reader of Le Guin’s as a kid, with her Earthsea books and some of her grown-up novels on our family’s bookshelves. I first conceived of the movie in about 2003 while I was talking on the phone with my best friend while pacing around the back patio of Maximum Rocknroll, the punk magazine I was editing then. It was deadline time. We were talking about the debt we felt toward certain women writers of Ursula’s generation. Grace Paley and Adrienne Rich also came up. I kept thinking about that conversation, and soon it became clear that Ursula’s story was the one calling to me, and also that it should be a film, so that people could feel like they were in the room with her. Before I contacted her for the first time, I first had to go to graduate school, work in the field and learn to make movies. So that’s what I did.
JG: What was it like to collaborate with Ursula Le Guin?
AC: Ursula was incredibly generous with her fans, with the Pacific Northwest arts community, with other writers, with her friends, etc., but at first she was not sure about being in front of the camera. We had some back and forth about it before she agreed to participate. Once she did, she stuck with me on what ended up being a decade-long ride, as I raised the funding and went through twists and turns in my own life — like having two kids during production. Working with Ursula was a great honor, and great fun. She was kind, curious, wise, and playful. She also didn’t suffer fools, and it was inspiring to watch her wield her mighty voice and intellect in the world.
JG: How did you come to be a part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival?
AC: I was asked to be a part of AIFF by its artistic director, Richard Herskowitz, and was delighted to come. Ashland and the people who lived here were important to Ursula, and I am glad for the opportunity to bring her back to them for a moment on screen.
JG: What are your current and future projects?
AC: At the moment, I am working on making sure that the documentary reaches audiences far and wide. I’m also helping with some other projects in the works, including “Free For All,” an NEH-funded documentary about the public library, by directors Dawn Logsdon and Lucy Faulknor. I’m also working on my first book.
The 2018 Ashland Independent Film Festival’s “Varsity World Film Week” runs Oct. 5-12 at the Varsity Theatre, 166 East Main Street in Ashland. Tickets can be found at the box office there or at www.ashlandfilm.org. Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.