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Paul Haggis “obsessed” with Craig Davidson’s Cataract City

Craig Davidson

Is it just a matter of time before Craig Davidson sees another one of his works adapted for film?

A month ago, New York magazine ran a transcription of a conversation with actress Margarita Levieva and film director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who revealed that he was reading Davidson’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated novel, Cataract City (Doubleday Canada). The magazine has updated the post with the full interview, which includes some high praise for Davidson.

Haggis says:

The setting is fabulous, because it’s the underbelly of Niagara Falls. It’s really lovely. I love the grittiness of it. And the writer is wonderful. I’m going to finish reading it tomorrow. I’m obsessed with it.

In 2012, two stories from Davidson’s collection Rust and Bone were adapted by French director Jacques Audiard. The film, starring Marion Cotillard, was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign film.

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Nicole Kidman to star and produce The Silent Wife adaptation

A.S.A. Harrison

Nicole Kidman has signed on as star and producer for the film adaptation of A.S.A. Harrison’s posthumous novel, The Silent Wife (Penguin Canada).

Kidman’s production company, Blossom Films, was responsible for the 2010 adaptation of David-Lindsay Abaire’s play Rabbit Hole. For The Silent Wife, Blossom Films is partnering with Mazur/Kaplan, a production company that specializes in print-to-screen adaptations (Return to Nim’s Island, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand).

Harrison died months before the breakout success of her debut novel, a psychological thriller that has spent months on various bestseller lists and been translated in more than 20 languages. A public memorial to celebrate Harrison’s life and the success of The Silent Wife is happening tonight at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.




Semi Chellas and Esta Spalding to co-write film adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

Screenwriters Semi Chellas* and Esta Spalding are co-writing an adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s British wartime novel, Life After Life, for Lionsgate Entertainment.

The two writers, who are well-known in the Canadian television industry, have plenty of experience taking literature from print to screen. In 2003, Spalding, who is also a poet and novelist, adapted Barbara Gowdy’s Falling Angels for a feature film and co-wrote, along with director Deepa Mehta, a script for The Republic of Love, an adaptation of Carol Shields’ novel of the same name.

In 2008, Chellas, who was nominated for an Emmy Award for her writing on Mad Men, adapted Who Named the Knife, a book by Spalding’s mother, Linda, for a television movie. That year Chellas also directed Green Door, a short film written by Gowdy, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Chellas’s writing has also appeared in the literary journal Brick, for which both Spaldings are contributing editors.


Correction, Aug. 19: An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect spelling of Semi Chellas’s surname.

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About a boy: Richard Van Camp and The Lesser Blessed

Richard Van Camp is a household name in the North. Will his new book – and the film adaptation of his novel, The Lesser Blessed – introduce his unique brand of storytelling to audiences south of the 60th parallel? (From the November 2012 issue of Q&Q)

(photo: Laughing Dog Photography)

Sitting crossed-legged on the floor of his home office, Richard Van Camp looks like a teenager. It’s not just that he’s flanked by Star Wars figurines and comic books stacked prominently above his own published works, or his outfit of cargo shorts, blue ankle socks, and a loosely buttoned plaid T-shirt. It’s not his sideburns and youthful face either, though they help.

What makes 41-year-old Van Camp appear 14 is his rollicking, energetic enthusiasm. “Life’s great, man,” he says. It’s hard to disagree.

Ten days before our interview, Van Camp watched the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Lesser Blessed, a screen adaptation of his debut book and only novel (originally published by Douglas & McIntyre in 1996). The feeling, he says, is one he could live off for a month.

Back in Edmonton, where he moved in 2010 to be with his partner, Keavy Martin, Van Camp is practically hyperventilating with the knowledge he’s days away from holding finished copies of his newest book, Godless but Loyal to Heaven. Like The Lesser Blessed, many of the 10 short stories in the collection are based in Fort Simmer, a mirror of his hometown of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.

Maurice Mierau, his editor at Enfield & Wizenty (the literary imprint of Great Plains Publications), calls the fictional setting “Van Campland,” a place where the grit of the territories and the traditions of its people are stitched together. “In his version of the North, there [are] a lot of aboriginal teenagers who are living on the edge of things,” says Mierau. “It’s a violent world. A world still soaked with the memory of religious and cultural traditions, and those traditions are filtered through American pop culture.”

Fort Simmer is populated by recurring, interconnected characters, usually pure-hearted males who are one incident from utter devastation. Some of them appeared in his earlier collections, Angel Wing Splash Pattern (Kegedonce Press, 2002) and The Moon of Letting Go (Enfield & Wizenty, 2010). Men like Torchy, Bear, Snowbird, Kevin Garner, and Dean Meadows live comfortably in their creator’s mind, never aging. “I don’t want them to get older,” says Van Camp. “They’re beautiful.”

When he talks about his characters, it’s without regard for linearity: Van Camp just spews what he knows about them like it’s gossip. In Godless but Loyal to Heaven, his characters’ haps are considerably darker than in previous books: a warning about a zombie epidemic caused by the oil sands comes to fruition; a group is held hostage by the flesh-eating demands of their Wendigofriend; and, in the title story (a novella, really), a Tuberculosis-infected brawler must fight to find his brother’s buried remains.

But, Van Camp says, the collection is “really about finding faith today while walking in two worlds, the contemporary and the traditional.” The stories borrow heavily from the author’s childhood and adolescence as a member of the Dogrib First Nation, and from the lives of people in whose shadows he grew up. Even the stories containing elements of magical realism might as well be true. As the grandson of a medicine man who “chanted out the poison,” there’s little Van Camp disbelieves. One of his common utterances is: “I’ve seen it with my own eyes!”


Godless but Loyal to Heaven is Van Camp’s fourth book. Sixth if you count his work for children, eighth if you count his educational comic books, eleventh if you count his baby boardbooks of soothing lullabies, including the forthcoming Little You (which he wrote on his iPhone in two minutes at a Pearl Jam concert, and sold to Orca Book Publishers two weeks later).

What ties Van Camp’s bibliography together are his intensely oral narratives, a result of growing up around storytellers. A paperboy and then a HandiBus driver, the young Van Camp ingratiated himself with elders and carried around a recorder to document their stories. Mierau remembers the first time he heard Van Camp read one of his stories out loud. It was in 2009, at Thin Air, Winnipeg’s international writers’ festival. “I liked him immediately,” says Mierau. “Something in his personality that matches what you see in his stories is he’s really upbeat.”

That enthusiasm hasn’t always produced results. The six years between Angel Wing Splash Pattern and The Moon of Letting Go were full of lucrative appearances at conferences on Native studies, creative writing, even early childhood development. But there were also false starts and burned bridges.

“I was touring so much and giving so many keynotes that I made a fantastic living, but my writing was horrible,” Van Camp says. He smartened up when, in 2008, a publisher told him that, until he got some “A.I.C.” (Ass in Chair) time, he wasn’t allowed to submit anything else. Now, he tours more strategically – two weeks on, three weeks off – but he also channels his limited attention into short stories and board books. “As you can see I have a lot of energy,” he says. “I really need a tough editor like Maurice.”

“He’s like the B.B. King of Canadian writing; he is always on the road,” jokes Mierau. “He probably does more than 200 readings in a typical year.”

Mierau estimates that a third of Van Camp’s books are hand-sold by the author. And yet, he’s not a household name south of the 60th parallel. Up North, he’s iconic – a storyteller whom storytellers tell stories about, especially now that The Lesser Blessed has become part of the regional high-school curriculum. Though Van Camp’s never won any of Canada’s top literary prizes, he calls that book and its film adaptation “my Giller.”

“[The film] is going to make a lot of Northerners proud,” says Van Camp, who acted as executive producer, a title the filmmakers offered him for his resilience. “It was an acknowledgement of me never giving up over seven years of funders falling through, promises falling through, film commissioners coming and going. We would have meetings where people would show up, and six months later three out of five would be gone and there would be new faces,” he says. “I felt like a land-claims negotiator.”

His luck turned around once the production company, First Generation Films, signed former Law & Order star Benjamin Bratt, who is of Peruvian-aboriginal descent. Though Bratt’s association with the project attracted backers, the filmmakers had to find someone to play the lead role of Larry Soles, the unbridled Fort Simmer teenager who has been living in Van Camp’s head for 21 years. His “first gladiator.” His “best friend.”

Determined to maintain’s the film’s authenticity, Van Camp decided to scout non-actors from Northern schools. The search took the team through five communities, starting in Yellowknife and ending at Van Camp’s former high school, Paul William Kaeser. But it was fruitless. A disappointed Van Camp had already returned to Edmonton when director Anita Doron and casting agent Jason Knight encountered a young man named Joel Evans: “six-foot-three, skinny as spaghetti, self-deprecating.” It seemed like everyone had auditioned for the role but Evans, who had been busy studying for a math test. Van Camp would have to wait a few months before he could meet his Larry, on set in Sudbury. “Joel looked like a baby, like a boy, it was perfect,” he says. “I gave him the biggest hug, and he said, ‘My great aunty used to tell stories about you.’”

Although it’s been less than two weeks since The Lesser Blessed premiered, Van Camp is already dreaming of future projects. A short film based on his story “Dogrib Midnight Runner” is already in post production,while another story, “The Uranium Leaking from Port Radium and Rayrock Mines is Killing Us,” has just been optioned by award-winning B.C. filmmaker Brianne Nord-Stewart.


A couple days after our interview, UPS knocked on Van Camp’s door with a book delivery. The author recalls how he opened the box and handed copies of Godless but Loyal to Heaven to his partner, his brother, and visiting friends. Everyone’s eyes were closed. They counted down to one before opening them together.

“Torchy is reborn,” says Van Camp.

The Lesser Blessed opens in Toronto on May 31, and in Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton on June 7. On May 31 and June 1 after the early evening screenings, there will be giveaways and a Q&A with writer/director Anita Doron and members of the cast.

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Film adaptation of Arsenal Pulp graphic novel wins Cannes top honours

When Arsenal Pulp Press publisher Brian Lam first agreed to publish the English-language version of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude, he was unaware there was a film version in the works. On Sunday, that adaptation, titled Blue Is the Warmest Color: The Life of Adele, was declared a breakout hit at the Cannes Film Festival. Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche and the film’s stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydou, were presented with the Palme d’Or, beating out films by the Coen brothers and Roman Polanski for the festival’s top honour.

In 2010, Belgian comics publisher Glénat published the lesbian coming-of-age story, about a teenage girl who falls in love with an older woman. Last year, an agent representing Glénat approached Arsenal Pulp about acquiring world English-language rights, attracted by the Vancouver company’s experience publishing LGBT titles and graphic novels. A deal was signed in October at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Since yesterday’s award announcement, Lam has already been in touch with Glénat, “making sure references to the film are clearly marked on the book and in our publicity materials.” To be titled Blue Angel (Blue Is the Warmest Color), the book will launch in October. The film’s North American release is also scheduled for the fall.

“There’s the niche market of it being a lesbian graphic novel, but we didn’t imagine that it would be a huge commercial success,” says Lam. “It’s a beautiful story, but not a mainstream subject, and it’s not going to fly in certain communities. This gives us new opportunities.”

Later this week at BookExpo America, Lam will meet with Arsenal Pulp’s U.K. and U.S. distributors to discuss sales and marketing strategies. “We have our distribution networks all lined up, and now it’s just a matter of everyone being on side and knowing what to do to take it to the next level,” says Lam.

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Q&A: filmmaker Alan Zweig on adapting Ray Robertson’s Fifteen Reasons to Live

Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig (Vinyl, I, Curmudgeon) knew author Ray Robertson (What Happened Later, Gently Down the Stream) well enough to nod a greeting on the street, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting at a favourite west-end used record store that the two started discussing their creative projects with each other.

On Saturday, Zweig’s new documentary, 15 Reasons to Live, premieres at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. Inspired by Robertson’s personal essay collection, Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, Zweig constructed his film using short vignettes about people who embody the book’s spirit.

Q&Q spoke to Zweig about his documentary and relationship to Robertson’s book.

What made you think this book would make a good film? When Ray told me the book was called Fifteen Reasons to Live (he didn’t mention in that first conversation that the book is actually called Why Not?), there were many things about those words that hit me hard. I have a relationship with lists in that I don’t make them. Most of my life I have said, “Are there reasons to live? What choice do I have?” I also felt there was a strong connection between the book and other films of mine, in particular I, Curmudgeon, which is about negativity and trying to move on. I decided I was going to do it before I even read the book.

What did you think after you read the book? The book is not like your normal self-help book – it’s for people who don’t like self-help books because it’s told from such an eccentrically personal point of view. I don’t know if Ray would describe his book this way, but I have described my film as Oprah for cynics.

I hoped there would be lots of things I could use for the film. But Ray’s reasons are more like essays and less like stories, which would have made it easier. In the end I decided the film couldn’t be my 15 reasons to live – it would have to come from the book. I was going to take it as a sacred text.

How would you describe the relationship between the book and the film? When I couldn’t find a story I would go back to the book as a reminder of how it inspired me, to see what Ray meant and see how I could apply that to a story. He gave me a map, and I’m going to all those places, but I might not take the same route he did.

What was the most challenging subject? Intoxication. I didn’t want it to be about mushrooms or Carlos Castaneda, I wanted it to be about alcohol. It wasn’t simply because I don’t get drunk myself much. What is a good story about getting drunk?

Individuality and Critical Mind were also challenging. While I agree individuality is a nice feature to go through life with, it’s also somewhat self-congratulatory. Ray can get away with it in the book because it’s extremely personal. I had to find stories that would come in the back door.

Has Ray seen the film? He will see it Saturday for the first time. Sometimes I would see him in the neighbourhood and tell him about the stories. Sometimes Ray seemed excited, other times he said that wasn’t what he meant. But I think he’ll like it. He’s been very encouraging.

I’m not happy that all his novels haven’t been made into films, but I think it’s a cool thing that the book you might have thought least likely to be made into a film will be the first.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Life of Pi sells 1.5 million copies since film release

Even if Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi doesn’t receive a single Academy Award on Sunday night, the film is already a winner for the author.

According to a press release from Martel’s agency, Westwood Creative Artists*, the novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies via its English-language publishers, Canongate in the U.K., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S., and Random House Canada, which published a movie tie-in version of the book under its Vintage Canada imprint.

In an email interview with Canadian Press, Martel recommends reading the book prior to seeing the film. “One should start with the original work,” he says.

Life of Pi enjoyed an initial sales bump in 2002 after winning the Man Booker Prize. Prior to the film’s release, international sales in all languages were reported to be in excess of nine million copies, with 812,000 copies in Canada alone.

The film is up for 11 Academy Awards, including an adapted screenplay nomination for David Magee.

*Update Feb. 22: A previous version of this post did not mention Westwood Creative Artists.

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