Fall 2018 – Canadian Fiction Adapted for the Screen

Canadian Fiction Adapted for the Screen
Presented by Christopher Laxer

Thursdays, October 11 to November 29, 2018 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

October 11     Introduction to Adaptations: Black Robe (1991)

This lecture will address what adaptations are, how they are made and what is lost (or gained) in the transition from text to screen. Director Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Bruce Wilson’s 1985 historical novel of colonial encounter in 17th century New France is an ideal place to start a course on the filmic adaptation of Canadian fiction.

October 18     The English Patient (1996)

With nine academy awards (including Best Picture) and a reference in Seinfeld, this film’s critical and pop-cultural success was proof that Canadian literature could conquer Hollywood. This lecture will explore whether the sweeping epic film is essentially the same as Ondaatje’s experiment with “cubist” fiction in his novel, what the process of adaptation has favoured and what it has forgotten.

October 25     Life of Pi (2012)

The big budget Ang Lee adaptation of the novel proved that a $120 million blockbuster film could also be poetic, that a 3D movie could make the technology feel like more than a gimmick. But does the film have the philosophic depth of the novel?

November 1      Room (2015)

An independent-film-festival favourite-turned-Academy-Award-nominee, this film adaptation has the distinction that its screenplay was written by the author of the novel. In fact, Donoghue served as executive producer on the movie and was accorded an almost unheard-of degree of agency in the adaptation of her own work. Does this involvement make the film adaptation of Room any truer to the book? Does this notion of staying true to the source text even matter much?

November 8      Anne of Green Gables (1985, 2017)

We will compare the well-known four-hour CBC miniseries starring Megan Follows (1985) with the latest eight-episode miniseries starring Amybeth McNulty. At what point does repeated adaptation approach mythology? Who owns the stories we love?

November 15    The Book of Negroes (2015)

Lawrence Hill co-wrote the screenplay with the series director Clement Virgo. We will examine the difficulties of adapting this relatively unknown and peculiarly Canadian story in the context of the well-established tropes of American films dealing with the slave experience.

November 22    Alias Grace (2017)

Road to Avonlea star Sarah Polley writes this miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Giller Prize-winning novel. The acclaimed Canadian director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) directs this story of the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada. What does it mean that the miniseries is an adaptation of a novel that is itself an adaptation of a murder case? Where do the limitations of adaptation lie? Is everything an adaptation?

November 29    The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)

With Brexit, the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and the rise of far-right political movements all over the Western world, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have gone through the roof. Hulu’s ten-hour miniseries starring Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes is proof that an adaptation of a literary work can renew and revive it.