Books to Films at TIFF15

September kicks off Film Festival Season, a prequel to all the movie nominations coming up at the end of the year. First there’s Venice, Telluride, and Sept. 10 begins the 10-day celebration of films from over 70 countries at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The following are several of the premieres at TIFF15 that are adaptations from literary sources. Just to throw some more reading ideas out in case you’re not already overwhelmed with book suggestions.


The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker Movie-tie-in CoverAustralian author Rosalie Ham’s debut novel (2000) is divided into four sections named after four different kinds of fabric: gingham, shantung, felt and brocade. The historical, gothic novel has received several nominations and shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award (2001) by the Australian Booksellers Association. The film adaptation stars Kate Winslet as the dressmaker Tilly Dunnage who returns to her hometown seeking revenge on her being expelled years before, with a sewing machine as her accomplice. Sounds interesting? What more, she is a Titanic survivor (of course she is) and the plot thickens with a hearing on the doomed maiden voyage. Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse wrote the screenplay and shot the film in Victoria. Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis also star.

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

HighRise(1stEd)J. G. Ballard’s most well-known novel probably is Empire of the Sun (1984) thanks to Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation. That is a semi-autobiographical account of Ballard’s childhood years in a Shanghai internment camp during the Japanese invasion of China. The production is one of the better WWII, Pacific War movies, splashed with some surreal styling. Now High-Rise (1975) looks like a totally imaginative work. An ultra-modern high-rise apartment (hopefully with some updated renos from its inception in 1975) with all its conveniences and amenities only lead to the isolation of its tenants, dividing them into different classes and eventually, to rivalry and extreme violence. The high-rise is a self-contained microcosm of our civilized society, perhaps Lord of the Flies of the concrete jungle. An acerbic satire of our human condition, the film is directed by Ben Wheatley and stars Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Into the ForestThis is Hegland’s debut novel (1996), and had been translated into eleven languages. Set in Northern California in the near future when a massive continental power outage causes the total shutdown of technology, subsequently, the total collapse of human society. The apocalyptic scenario unfolds as two teenaged sisters – at first living in an idyllic, remote forest – now have to fend for themselves, find food at the brink of starvation, secure safety in the wild, and in the process, grow in their relationship with each other and learn more about their world. A coming-of-age story as well as an allegory of our technologically dependent society. The film is shot in British Columbia where, yes, there are beautiful forests. Canadian director Patricia Rozema writes the screenplay and helms the production. Rozema is the one who brought us Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park the movie in 1999. Popular Canadian actress Ellen Page joins hands with Evan Rachel Wood to play the roles of the sisters.

The Lady In the Van by Alan Bennett

The Lady in the VanThanks to the film adaptation, or I wouldn’t have known about this amazing story. Acclaimed English playwright Alan Bennett’s play is not fiction but a memoir. Bennett saw a transient woman living in a van on the street. Trying to help her out, he let her park on his own driveway for three weeks so she could sort things out and move on. Well, Miss Shepherd stayed for 15 years. Not surprisingly, she and the playwright form an unlikely bond of friendship. This ‘mostly true’, incredulous story needs to be told for its unique human scenario. From play to film is probably the best route to reach many more viewers. Who else other than Maggie Smith best fit the role as Miss Shepherd? And so she did, with Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper, and James Cordon. The is the third film wherein director Nicholas Hytner and playwright Alan Bennett team up. Their previous collaborations are The History Boys (2006) and The Madness of King George (1994).

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian movie tie in editionHere’s a Cinderella story that all bloggers can cheer for. In 2009, Andy Weir started posting on his personal blog as a post-by-post serial his well-researched sic-fi story about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Chapter by chapter he attracted numerous readers who, after the story was finished, suggested he publish it as an eBook so people could read it online as a whole. Weir did that and his eBook soon hit the top of Amazon’s best selling sic-fi list. Not long after, Random House stepped in and took it from there, from e to reality. Four days later, “Hollywood called for the movie rights,” Weir recalled. As I type, on this second week of September, Weir’s book is number one on the New York Times Best Sellers Trade Paperback Fiction list. And the movie? The legendary Ridley Scott takes the helm, with NASA consulting, Matt Damon stars, and an A-list supporting cast includes Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jeff Daniels. World premiere at TIFF before a general release later in October. And it all started with a blog post.

Room by Emma Donoghue

roomThe 2010 Booker-prize shortlisted novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue reads like you’d want to see it visualized. Indeed, hearing constantly the voice of a 5 year-old could have that effect on you. So here we are. A movie adaptation. Locked in a room and made captive by a psychotic abuser, a young mother gives birth and for the next five years raises her child Jack in a shed. At 5, Jack has known no other worlds, but now begins to ask questions. Ma cannot contain the make-believe anymore so she tells Jack there’s a world out there, and starts to prepare him for a possible escape. The multiple-award winning novel is written from the child’s perspective. It depicts the power of love and the indomitable spirit of resilience and hope, but maybe not for the claustrophobic. The movie trailer is impressive; the 1.5 minute clip is powerful, consuming, and very moving. The film premiered at Telluride International Film Festival in early September and stunned the audience, drawing multiple standing ovations. Donoghue wrote the screenplay herself, that could well be a definite asset. Lenny Abrahamsson directs, with Brie Larson as Ma, Jacob Tremblay as Jack, Joan Allen and William H. Macy supporting.

UPDATE Sept. 20, 2015: ROOM has just won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF15 tonight. FYI, a few of TIFF’s previous winners had gone on to win the Oscar Best Picture including 12 Years A Slave (2013), The King’s Speech (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), American Beauty (1999).


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

42 thoughts on “Books to Films at TIFF15”

  1. Great analysis, Arti. I really enjoyed this article. These are all compelling selections. I’m highly anticipating High Rise myself, based on its premise. Intense, but with thematic elements. I’ve heard great things about Room too. But the one that got my interest was the Canadian film with Page and Wood. Thanks for spotlighting indie cinema. It’s hard to find hidden gems. I hadn’t heard of that one.


    1. Welcome to the pond, Dan, where you throw in your two pebbles to leave some ripples. There are more exciting book to film titles coming out all the time. I’ll keep posting them whenever I’ve gathered a bunch. You may want to check out the few related posts at the end of this one here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Not all sound like my cuppa but I’m particularly interested in the Alan Bennett and The Dressmaker. (Kate W. must be getting that Titanic survivor thing down well!). Room sounds powerful but maybe too much for me.

    I always appreciate your reactions to the films from TIFF (and others). They provide enough information to perhaps make a viewing decision!


  3. Arti,
    Great column again.
    I have a suggestion for a column after I talked to a friend about movies and books. She insists that movies can never be better than the original books but I am not so sure. Since you read so much and watch so many movies, can you have a column on movies that are better than the original books?


  4. I’m not so sure I want to see Room. But the Martian should be a fun one. I think I would like the Dressmaker, too, though my husband will vote for Highrise.


  5. “The Lady in the Van” is the one I’ll look out for — possibly because I experienced the reality of life in a van after Tropical Storm Allison! Living in the driveway while your house is being rebuilt is an experience. I’d love to learn the details of this story, and see how it plays out.


    1. Linda,

      Yes, that sounds like an amazing story. I mean if the case was here in Cowtown, probably that would be a violation of city bylaws. Anyway, that this is a real event is incredulous. I’m sure you’ve had your story to tell too about your experience living in the driveway, maybe a post or two? 😉


  6. I don’t think any of these films are playing the NYFF, Arti, but one book to film adaptation Milton and I are seeing there that’s not on your list is “Carol”. We’re pretty psyched to see that one although frankly, when I read the book back in the day, I liked the story (it was pretty mind blowing for the early 1950s), but I found the writing rather dreadful. Milton is struggling to get through it now.


    1. LA,

      Yes, I was trying to select some of the world premieres titles for this list. “Carol” premiered at Cannes and after that, Telluride, albeit I just found out “Room” was premiered at Telluride too. So what other films are you watching at NYFF? You know, this year I’m going to miss TIFF as I’ll be going on a New England road trip to see the fall foliage. On my last day before coming home, I’ll be about 3 hrs. drive from NYC! I should have planned to attend NYFF after my trip!


      1. I missed this response from you, Arti! My iPhone’s been showing signs of death for several weeks. I’ve even missed some important calls and texts! (grrrr) I’m going to replace it, but I can’t just yet.

        We have tickets to The Lobster, Where to Invade Next? (the new Michael Moore doc), Microbe and Gasoline (the new one from Michel Gondrey) and several others, but this year’s festival does not excite us like last year’s. It actually seems rather tame:

        The film we didn’t get that I most want to see is Don Cheadle’s bio-pic about Miles Davis, Miles Ahead. We’re hoping that they’ll add screenings of it.


  7. I started The Dressmaker, sent to me by Penguin, before I set it down again to “attack” the Booker long list. While I found it on the light side, it was also charming. I am sufficiently intrigued to revisit it soon. As for the film, what do you think? Will it hold up to the Titanic survivor actress? Or, vice versa?


    1. Bellezza,

      You did a wonderful job in ‘attacking’ the Booker longlist. That’s an arduous task really. I’m reading Tom McCarthy’s Booker nom. right now, all due to his debut work “Remainder” being on this movie adaptation list. As for “The Dressmaker”, it’s been described as “Unforgiven” (Clint Eastwood) with a sewing machine. I think Kate Winslet should have a personal draw. However, I’m not sure how well a female version of “Unforgiven” will be like. We’ll see very soon as it premieres at TIFF this coming week.


  8. I do love seeing what’s coming out. I’ve been meaning to read The Lady in the Van for ages, and I sent my menfolk off on holiday in Greece with a copy of The Martian. As for The Dressmaker, that sounds perfect for my mother (my grandmother was, in fact, a dressmaker).


    1. litlove,

      Always good to find some personal connections with a book. Since I’ll be going on my New England trip, I won’t be at TIFF this year; what I can’t watch I’ll be reading. 😉


  9. I love it that you do these summaries, Arti. You are a terrific source for movies and books to consider. Love the startup story of The Martian, a movie I do hope to see in the near future.


  10. Gosh, it must be years since I read The Lady in the Van, it was quite extraordinary. Can’t imagine what the film will be like but I am rather fond of Alan Bennett.


    1. Nicola,

      I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one then since you a reading experience already. I just heard about it from finding about the film adaptation. But yes, I’ll be watching Alan Bennett more closely now. 😉


  11. I’ve read three of these novels, and have reviewed two on my blog (the Bennett and the Hegland). I’ve seen trailers for two (the Ham, which I’ve also read, and the Bennett). I didn’t know the Hegland was being adapted for film. I love that you do these adaptation lists, Arti. Thanks. Which of these books have you read, or do you plan to read?


    1. WG,

      So good to hear from you and learn that you’ve read these titles and have reviewed them. I’ll definitely stop by your place and check them out. Hegland’s has a Canadian director and with Ellen Page, so we have more buzz here than anywhere else I’m sure. I enjoy making these lists for they are personal TBR lists and also function as ‘notes to myself’ for the ones I’ve read. Here I’ve only read Room. High Rise I just got from the library but no time to read as I’m also making a list for the October issue of Shiny New Books, and am reading some of those titles, particularly, most interested in the works of Tom McCarthy.


      1. Thanks Arti. Room is one I should read. I did enjoy The dressmaker but it was a long time ago, and it’s not one I remember in detail. I think it could make a good film though.

        Ellen Page! I’d watch pretty much anything with her.


        1. WG, Just been to your site. I could find your review of Bennett’s play, will read later, but couldn’t find Hegland’s Into The Forest. There are other similar titles, but not this one.


          1. Well, darn it, Arti! I really thought I’d read it after I started blogging but I didn’t check. You’re right, I didn’t so it’s not on my blog. My apologies.

            As for the Bennett, my review, when you read it, is of the book and the BBC production (an audio CD I listened to) which I heard and read pretty much simultaneously.


  12. Ah, just checked and of course we discussed The dressmaker briefly here … I saw it a few weeks ago. Liked it a lot – intriguing mix of satire and something more tragic, and gorgeous design in that sort of heightened reality style. As someone said the other day, it’s almost caricature except there’s depth too. And I loved the acting overall. For we Aussies, it wasn’t just lovely seeing Judy Davis again, but also favourites like Barry Otto and Julia Blake, as well as newer up and coming actors like the versatile Sarah Snook.


    1. WG,

      I patiently await The Dressmaker to arrive. Also, have you seen Room? It’s a must-see, one of the better ones this year. Yeah, I’m a bit disappointed at this year’s films. A few good ones, but nothing great. Know what I mean?


      1. I mentioned Room on my other reply. It’s either been while we were travelling and I missed it or not here yet. Look forward to Brooklyn … Have seen a trailer … But should read it first as I do have it here.


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