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When a City Falls (2011)

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The people's story of the Canterbury earthquakes. What happens to half a million New Zealanders the year their lives changed forever?



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A documentary following the lives of Cantabrians after the 2 earthquakes that rocked Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, killing 185 people. With no voice over just the account of people who lived through this event. This film shows first hand the destruction of a beautiful city and the inspirational residents will to recover and rebuild. Written by Steven Drewitt

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


From the Streets of Christchurch - The People's Story







Release Date:

24 November 2011 (New Zealand)  »

Box Office


NZD 500,000 (estimated)

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Technical Specs



| (High Definition)
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User Reviews

has to be seen to be appreciated
24 February 2012 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

I first heard of this film from my father who was waiting for it to screen in his local theater in Oamaru. He had seen the trailer on TV and was hooked. After a conversation on the way to work one day we had the idea of finding out if the film was going to be shown here in Australia; due to the fact that there were allot of Kiwis living abroad, we were just hoping it was going to have an international release. At the time it wasn't.

A little back story about my family- Our family had started in the north island of New Zealand before moving to the Gold Coast of Australia in 1980. We were forever homesick, and after a health scare for my father a couple of years back we all thought it would be a good idea for them to give NZ another chance. This time they moved to the Souhtland as my grandmother had recently moved to Gore from Rotorua to be closer to my uncle. Both myself and my brother stayed here in Oz in case mum and dad had second thoughts.

They found a lovely poll home on the north hill overlooking Oamaru (which is about 3 hours drive south of Christchurch). On February the 22nd, 2011 my mum experienced her first ever earthquake. Panic stations were alerted as mum was under the impression she was having a turn. After a quick evaluation, she realized it was in fact an earthquake. Thank god for that she said. Dad at the time was at the local service station getting his warrant of fitness done on his 4WD when he noticed it was moving. His first thought was somebody was getting into his truck and stealing it. Then he realized all the vehicles (including a fully laden cement truck at the intersection) in the neighboring streets were rocking. Then the light poles. Then his legs started to give way. Keep in mind, this was 3 hours drive south of Christchurch which was experiencing one of the most devastating earthquakes in a long time.

At that same time my parents are thinking, who is getting the full force of this quake; Gerard Smyth was hastily trying to put his damaged Sony camera back together. The earthquake had broken the lens off the body of the camera. If you look closely at the film from about a third the way through, you may notice his thumb over the edge of the lens as he is going through the streets of Christchurch recording the chaos ensuing. This is what gives this film a certain quality rarely seen in a documentary these days.

He has just bravely grabbed what he could and got out there. Going into areas as any person in there right mind is getting out of, and it shows.

This is one hell of a brave man.

Now keep in mind, he had been filming a documentary of how Christchurch had survived the September earthquake without any casualties, and how the people of Christchurch were rebuilding their lives after loosing so much. It breaks your heart to learn, that as they are trying to recover from September they get hit again. Only this time so much worse.

This wasn't just one event that happened over a day. At the end of the film it states that there were over 7500 aftershocks from Feb 2011 and counting till when he finished editing the film. He has stated that there has been over 10,000 (and this has been confirmed) aftershocks since February 2011 till the first anniversary in 2012.

At one point during the film, an architect is being interviewed while he is drawing up plans to rebuild his damaged house and as an aftershock hits, his dogs scurries for cover and he say's 'ah, that's just a small one' and continues drawing as if nothing has happened.

It just shows the strength of those living there.

Gerard is one of those people.

Like a champion boxer floored on the mats, as the crowd is thinking they are finished, they just pull themselves together and get back up for the next round. Shrug their shoulders and ask 'is that the best you can do?'

The people of Christchurch are a breed unto themselves. Brave, strong and will always lend a hand to their neighbor.

I had the privilege of meeting Gerard Smyth before a screening on the Gold Coast. What impressed me was the good old fashioned firm hand shake he gave. That means allot to people nowadays. A person of strength; and not afraid to show it, a person who has the strength to show he has feelings. When you get to the part where he walks past a large tree to see the cathedral he was an alter boy many years ago you will see what I mean.

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