Exploring the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

Arwen Curry's film includes footage of Le Guin and interviews with such literary luminaries as David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood.

Image of Ursula K. Le Guin from Arwen Curry's new documentary.

A UC Santa Cruz alumna’s acclaimed documentary about the legendary genre-bending sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin is debuting tonight on PBS. 

This is a landmark moment for filmmaker Arwen Curry (Kresge ’96, language studies) whose movie, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, includes revelatory interviews with the author, who died last year at age 88. 

The movie has been making the rounds of film festivals and universities, but tonight will be its broadcast premiere. 

Curry spent more than 10 years on the film project, which includes footage of Le Guin and interviews with such literary luminaries as David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood. The movie also brings some of Le Guin’s most beloved creations, including the world of Earthsea, to vivid life with painstakingly crafted illustrations and animated sequences.

The film shows the path that Le Guin forged to make a name for herself in the sci-fi world at a time when that literary genre was male-dominated. She also helped to break down the boundaries of literary fiction and genre fiction—showing that fine writing and a love of language had a place in sci-fi.

“Those barriers were quite strong when she began writing,” Curry said. “The excellence of her work made people turn their heads and say, ‘Literature is happening here. This is serious work.’ Younger writers like Mitchell and Gaiman read her work and understood that they didn’t have to sacrifice literary quality to bring in fantastical elements they wanted to include in their work.”

Curry started filming Le Guin in 2008 and filmed on and off into 2016. Sometimes there were long gaps between recorded interview sessions. 

“She was extremely busy, and because of her age, I would plan carefully,” said Curry. “We would set it up a couple of months in advance. I wanted to film her in the different physical places that meant so much to her, so we planned a lot of production up on the Oregon Coast and in the Napa Valley. That was part of how we structured production.”

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin premieres tonight (Friday, August 2 at 9 p.m.) on PBS and will also be available for streaming at PBS.org/americanmasters and on the PBS Video app, which is available for iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TVs. Once the app is installed, visit pbs.org/activate, input your activation code and login with a Google or PBS account.