"Thank you Powell's, dear Powell’s,” says Ursula K. Le Guin in the opening minutes of Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a new documentary about the late, great Portland writer.“It’s so nice to always come back here.” And immediately, she begins to decry books about writing, and put forward her own philosophy. It’s classic Le Guin: sweet, civil elderly aunt and fiercely opinionated—often excoriating—dragon lady all at once.
That’s just one of many revealing moments with the beloved author, and her staggering body of work, found in Arwen Curry’s new movie, which has its US premiere at the Northwest Film Center this weekend. With literary heavy hitters David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman (among others) all testifying to her impact and influence, the film flips through her canon, which is brought to life in distinct animation sequences. At other moments, scenes from her home state—Cannon Beach; Diamond, Oregon—serve as backdrops to the conversations about place in her work. We learn of Le Guin’s childhood, her drive to write, her political awakenings, and the evolution that brought her to that famous moment at the 2014 National Book Awards in which she blasted what she called “commodity profiteers” (read: Amazon) and called us to examine our acceptance of the capitalist system in which we operate.
Curry and her team filmed LeGuin for the last decade of her life, launching a Kickstarter in January of 2016 to add to a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant and aid the completion of the film. (Curry will be in attendance at the Portland screenings for post-film Q&As.)
The result, a one-hour homage to one of the most creative minds ever associated with this city, benefits from so much footage of the author herself, musing on anarchism—“one of those profoundly radical ways of thinking that is very fruitful, very generative”—feminism, gender constructs, love, marriage, and, above all, writing.
“To learn to make something well can take your whole life, and it’s worth it,” she tells that same room at Powell’s at the end of the film. “That’ll do, I think.”
7:30 p.m. Fri, 7 p.m. Sat and Sun, 4:30 p.m. Sun, Sept 14–16, Whitsell Auditorium, $5–15