From the Page to the Screen

Claremont is the debut novel by Wiebke von Carolsfeld, a German-born writer and filmmaker living in Montreal. She has directed three critically acclaimed feature films (Marion Bridge, STAY, The Saver), winning numerous awards, including Best First Feature at TIFF and Sudbury, Canada’s Top Ten, Best Screenplay from the Chlotrudis Society along with nominations from the Canadian Screen Awards, the DGC, the AIFF, and the WGC.

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While most of my work life has been spent at the movies (I know, woe is me), literature has never been far from my mind. For one, I love reading—and on most days writing, too. But also, many of the films I’ve been involved with, be it as a writer, director or editor, have been based on books. All films listed here are available on iTunes and other streaming services, so once you have read the books, check them out. 

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Marion Bridge, by Daniel MacIvor  

Marion Bridge is my first feature film as director. Daniel MacIvor wrote the screenplay, adapting his own play. (Yes, technically the film is not based on a book, but the play along with the screenplay has been published, so I’m including it here). I first read Marion Bridge with the view of being the editor and I immediately fell in love with these three sisters, each struggling imperfectly to find her way. Strong, complicated and yet believable female characters are still all too hard to find in cinema, but back in 2002 a cast made up almost entirely of women was even more rare. So when the opportunity arose to option the screenplay, I jumped at the chance. Many rewrites later, we went to camera in 2002 making the film with Molly Parker as the lead, and introducing Ellen Page to the big screen. This edition of Marion Bridge includes an insightful introduction on the adaptation process by Daniel Macivor. Let me just say: Only one line survived from the original play to the final film. 

Watch the trailer of Marion Bridge:

 

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Stay, by Aislinn Hunter

My second feature, STAY, is based on the beautifully written novel by poet-turned-novelist Aislinn Hunter. The story is set in stunning Connemara, where Abbey (played by pre-Orange Is The New Black-Taylor Schilling) finds herself in love with a much older man, Dermot (Aidan Quinn). The novel contains hauntingly ­beautiful language, a chorus of compelling characters as well as a number of striking set-pieces (Ever contemplated what it might be like to give birth on your mother’s deathbed?). But when adapting a novel to the screen, plot and stakes often needs to be added, in this case most notably Abbey’s pregnancy, which compels her to return to Canada. Seeing that I am based in Montreal, in the film Abbey returns here rather than South-western Ontario as in the book.

To read what it is like for a writer to meet her creations in real life, go check out this link

Watch the trailer of STAY:

 

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The Saver, by Edeet Ravel

Sometimes life works in wonderful ways: Edeet Ravel, being a fan of Marion Bridge, reached out to me about adapting her YA novel The Saver. Upon reading, I immediately fell in love with Fern, a fierce, smart, hard-working teen—who also happens to be Indigenous. After her mother’s sudden death, Fern is forced to survive on her own wits and does so with remarkable panache. The story is set in bitterly cold Montreal, featuring a wide cast of idiosyncratic characters, representative of the multicultural, multilingual Montreal I so love. The Saver is an epistolary novel, a conceit that had to be dropped for the film, and Amir became Hamidou in the adaptation, but Fern’s incredible spirit—brought to the screen by newcomer Imajyn Cardinal—has very much been preserved. (Note how even the poster for the film and the cover of the book are almost identical.) 

Watch the trailer of The Saver:

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An Audience of Chairs, by Joan Clark

Adapted by Rosemary House for the screen, directed by Deanne Foley, I was fortunate to edit this adaptation of An Audience of Chairs in gorgeous St John’s, Newfoundland. Staring the immensely talented Carolina Bartczak, the film charts the story of Maura (in the novel it is Moranna), a talented pianist, struggling with bipolar disorder. When she looses the custody of her two children, Maura’s mental state deteriorates, marooning her in a remote cabin, playing for an audience of chairs. The scope and timeframe of the book had to be reduced to fit into the 90-minutes we had to tell this story, so you will find quite a few additional characters and plotlines when going back to the book. 

Watch the trailer of An Audience of Chairs

 

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Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels 

Dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust, this beloved novel about memory, loss and ultimately redemption was brought to the screen by Jeremy Podeswa. Editing Fugitive Pieces with its many interlocking story lines, flashbacks, and languages was a challenge made enjoyable by working with a brilliant director, who also happens to be a dear friend. As the film focuses mostly on Jacob’s part of the story there is plenty more to discover when re-reading the book, which won many prizes, among them the Trillium Book Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction and many more. Coincidentally, Anne Michaels’ cousin Sean (writer of the stellar Us Conductors), wrote a wonderful blurb for Claremont which adorns its cover. 

Watch the trailer of Fugitive Pieces:

 

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Book Cover Wild Geese

After The Harvest, based on the novel Wild Geese, by Martha Ostenso

When first published in 1925, Wild Geese caused a sensation and the book is now considered a forerunner for a new, more realistic movement within Canadian Literature. The story of a Prairie family tormented by a domineering father was adapted for the screen by Suzanne Couture, directed by Jeremy Podeswa. Getting to edit Sam Shepard as the evil Caleb was a thrill, as was working with images of the wind swept Prairies and a host of wonderful performers, including the feisty Nadia Litz, and the late Alberta Watson. 

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258315/

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The Bay of Love and Sorrows, by David Adams Richards

This gritty novel about a drug deal gone horribly wrong was adapted for the screen by both David Adams Richards and Tim Southam, who also directed. Set on the shores of the Miramichi in 1973, this is a modern tragedy complete with murder, betrayal and star-crossed lovers. Editing the uniformly wonderful cast of newcomers was a joy, even if—or actually better because—the film, like the book, asks some unflinching moral questions about class, ambition, and greed.  

Watch the trailer of The Bay of Love and Sorrows:

 

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Sweet Affliction, by Anna Leventhal

Okay, I was merely an editing consultant on this short by Jess Lee about a young woman grappling with romantic feelings for her older sister but as I love the book this film is based on, I wanted to include it here. Originally called "Gravity", this story comes from a brilliant collection of short stories by Anna Leventhal, whose writing is not only wickedly funny but also deeply insightful. 

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7456428/

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And as an extra bonus: 

Fall On Your Knees, by Anne-Marie MacDonald

Yes, this is not a movie—though it would make a terrific TV series—but it is one of my favourite Canadian novels. Ever! As a homage, I used my copy of the book as a prop in both my shorts and my film Marion Bridge. The idea was to establish a gimmick a la Alfred Hitchock, but instead of appearing myself, it would be Fall On Your Knees. Sadly I forgot to bring the book when shooting STAY in Ireland. Still, this Cape Breton-set, multi-generational saga, is an epic read well worth revisiting.

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About Claremont:

How to survive the unthinkable? This is the question nine-year-old Tom has to face after witnessing his parent's murder-suicide. After the horrific event, Tom refuses to speak. At first, he moves in with his childless Aunt Sonya, but she is ill equipped to deal with the traumatized boy. Before long, Tom is forced to move again, this time to Claremont Street in downtown Toronto, where he shares a run-down house with his mercurial Aunt Rose and his reckless yet endearing Uncle Will. As the seasons change, Tom's silence becomes a powerful presence, allowing this fractured family to hear one another for the first time—and for Tom to finally find a home. Claremont is a gripping story of one family's journey through grief and toward healing. 

November 7, 2019
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