Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TIFF's Books on Film Returns to Take Us Beyond the Page

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TIFF's Books on Film Returns to Take Us Beyond the Page

About a month ago, I broke one of my reading “rules”: having not yet read Yann Martel’s now classic novel, I donned a pair of 3D glasses and went to see Life of Pi.

Further back than I can remember, I made a promise to myself that if a film were based on a book that I had any interest in reading, I would be sure to read the book before plopping into a seat at my local Cineplex. I reasoned that the book was the original and therefore the superior and more complete art form. And unfortunately, that’s often true. I’ve been frequently disappointed by a director’s poor casting of a favourite character or their decision to drop an entire plot line in a book’s film adaptation. It’s undoubtedly a daunting task to cram 450 pages into 90 minutes, which explains why some film adaptations leave us so unsatisfied. But not all do. How is it that some are able to so faithfully and beautifully bring beloved stories to life and beyond?

This question is one that will be discussed by the filmmakers, authors and experts appearing at TIFF’s Books on Film. The popular subscriptions series returns this month for its third season with an exciting lineup sure to get people talking. Once again hosted by Eleanor Wachtel of CBC's Writers and Company, it will take place on Monday nights from February to June and will examine the critically acclaimed film adaptations of six highly regarded books.

Guests and films will include New Yorker theatre critic and author Hilton Als on The Innocents, the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ classic novella The Turn of the Screw (February 11); Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo on Robert Benton’s adaptation of his novel Nobody’s Fool (March 4); film and music producer Lisa Cortés on adapting Push by Sapphire into the award-winning film Precious (April 8); celebrated screenwriter and playwright Christopher Hampton on his Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Atonement (May 6); filmmaker Ted Kotcheff on The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, an adaptation that launched his career (June 3) and illustrious Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta on adapting Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children (June 24).

In a recent interview in the Toronto Star, host Wachtel noted that both novels and films have the ability to transport us to “another world,” but clarified that they do so in different ways. While there is an “interiority and intimacy” created by a book, a good film has the ability to “mood-alter.” A book and its film adaptation are really two separate art forms, differently purposed, that deserve to be analyzed and critiqued individually.

Whether a film has faithfully adapted a book is an important consideration, but perhaps it shouldn’t be the only criteria used to determine its worth. Adaptations challenge screenwriters to not only bring a previously written story to life, but also to create something new and unique from that story.

This season’s selected films are lauded not simply because they are brilliant adaptations (almost all of the films received recognition for their screenplays), but because they are examples of phenomenal cinema that can stand apart from the stories they were inspired by. Martin Scorcese called The Innocents one of the scariest horror films of all time. Mo’Nique won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious. Atonement won an Oscar for Best Original Score and was nominated for six others.

Last week, when I finally got around to reading Life of Pi, I felt a similar sense of awe to the one I’d experienced after watching Ang Lee’s film. Both pieces are examples of astonishing creative achievement, and although one was fashioned after the other, I truly see them as separate entities. Two important halves of the whole of my understanding, they work together to provide a complete and cohesive narrative.

And isn’t that exactly how it should work?

TIFF’s Book on Film series begins tonight at 7 p.m. with its screening of The Innocents. Subscriptions to the series are available for $153 for TIFF Members or $180 for non-members (prices include tax). Based on availability, single tickets may be released. For more information, please visit the TIFF website, or call 416.599.TIFF to get tickets.

Maeve O'Regan is an avid reader, occasional writer and enthusiastic publishing newbie. She is currently interning for Open Book: Toronto and enrolled in the Publishing Certificate Program at Ryerson University. She worked previously as an editorial intern at Knopf Canada.

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