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
Australian 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
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
This 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
Thanks 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
Here’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
The 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).