From Page to Screen
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(April 19, 2023 – Toronto, On) It is National Canadian Film Day today, but as we are fond of saying around here, “every day is Canadian Film Day at Northernstars.ca.” It’s the 10th anniversary of this coast-to-coast celebration of Canadian film and we love that it has survived and grown over the past decade. Our contribution is to explore the connection between books and film. I am not sure it is a trend, but when writing about the 6 films that had been nominated for the top award at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards, I was struck by the fact half had started life as something else, a graphic novel, a stage play, and Clement Virgo’s carefully crafted retelling of David Chariandy’s novel Brother. With Sarah Polley’s earlier win of an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for her film Women Talking, this seemed like something worth exploring.
Films based on books isn’t new. Just a couple of early examples include the silent 1922 German film Nosferatu, which was clearly based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, and the film that established Alfred Hitchcock as a director to watch, the 1927 silent The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, based on the 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes.
Some of the best and most enduring films began as books including Gone With The Wind (1939) based on the 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel, and The Godfather (1972) based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 book. I included a photo of Mordecai Richler’s book, Barney’s Version because it had long been believed the novel, with its many characters and plot twists and turns could never be made into a movie. Michael Konyves proved everyone wrong and it won 7 Genie Awards in 2011.
Famous novelists and playwrights whose words provided inspiration for filmmakers include Shakespeare, Hemingway, Dickens, Irving, Michener, Bradbury, Verne and many, many, many more. Canadian authors provided the novels that gave us films like And The Birds Rained Down, Black Robe, The English Patient, Joshua Then and Now, Margaret’s Museum, Maria Chapdelaine, The Stone Angel, The Tin Flute and every adaptation of Anne of Green Gables.
Sometimes a great film comes out of a short story. The 1986 hit Stand By Me was created from specific scenes taken from chapters in Stephen King’s novella titled The Body. Sarah Polley’s first major hit, Away From Her (2006) was based on Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The film won and was nominated for a slew of awards including a best adapted screenplay at the 2007 Academy Awards, which it didn’t win. It did however win 7 Genie Awards including best adapted screenplay and Best Motion Picture. Polley also adapted and wrote every episode of the mini-series Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel.
Women Talking was based on a Miriam Toews novel, but it wasn’t the first Toews book to be adapted. In 2021, Michael McGowan, who had previously given us such fine films as One Week, Score: A Hockey Musical and Still Mine, turned Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows into a quite remarkable film. Taken together, these two films constitute their own “master class” for aspiring filmmakers. The distillation of the story and the visual transformation of words on a page into images on a screen is worthy of serious study.
Today we celebrate National Canadian Film Day by looking at some of the Canadian films that began life as Canadian books. I urge you to read, watch and listen to Canadian creators…not just today, but every day of the year.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.