Editorial: Quake story should be told

Only a few hundred people have so far seen anything of Hope & Wire, Gaylene Preston's series of three two-hour programmes dramatising the earthquake of February 22, 2011, and its aftermath. Considered judgment will have to wait until the series begins running on TV3 this week, but reports at the weekend that the show had received a standing ovation at a special screening of the first episode last week for Christchurch residents who had been involved in the production suggests that Preston has pulled off a difficult and sensitive undertaking well.

As always with such ventures built on a recent event, some people who lived through February 22 will be inclined to bristle at the idea of any kind of fictional treatment of something so fresh and raw in their memories. Movies made about the massacre at Aramoana and the Erebus disaster, for instance, attracted similar criticism and were not made until many years after the event. Peter Jackson, knowing how easy it could be to inadvertently reopen old wounds, made very careful inquiries in Christchurch before beginning to write and film Heavenly Creatures, even though the event on which the movie was based took place fully 40 years before. Even the American television series Treme, based on the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, did not begin to air until eight years after the storm.

All those movies and television series were also based on one-off events that were essentially quite soon over. The February 22 earthquake was only the disastrous peak of upheavals that had begun in September the year before and continued for many months afterwards, each time stretching nerves to breaking point. And now, of course, there is the long haul of the rebuild, which for many has made it more difficult to put the original trauma behind them.

All that said, there are compelling arguments that now is a good time to make something creative from the disaster. The simple fact is the city is continually changing and backdrops may soon no longer be available. And it is now, while memories have not faded, that not only the facts of the story but also the intangible elements of it - the emotions in all their varieties - can most convincingly be captured.

Christchurch's story needs to be told. It is legitimate that it be told through creative expression provided it is done in a way that respectfully and accurately reflects the city's experience. Preston has a long and distinguished career in movie-making, both documentary and fiction, touching on some of the most profound moments - World War II, the Napier earthquake - in the country's history. There is every reason to have confidence that she will handle Christchurch's story with her customary artistry, care and skill.

The Press