The Canterbury Earthquakes and the Production of Reality in When a City Falls


  • Kevin B. Fisher University of Otago



The documentary When a City Falls (2011), directed by Gerard Smyth, promotes itself as “the people’s story”1 of the Canterbury earthquakes. Constructed almost entirely from amateur video, CCTV, and the director’s own handheld footage, the film creates a startling impression of the earthquakes, aftershocks, and aftermath in their spontaneity and lived immediacy. However, in the following analysis I will problematize the film’s construction of reality and community within the context of Melanie Klein’s critique of “disaster capitalism” and Jean Baudrillard’s analysis of the operation of disaster and moving images in staging reality within a post-9/11 environment characterized by an accelerated devaluation of the sign.