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Does Ben Affleck owe ex-Iranian ambassador Ken Taylor an apology?

Of the many films to debut so far at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, Argo, has much to set it apart. The film, about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, has a big-name Hollywood cast, is set in a country that is constantly in the news, and plays to the hometown crowd, detailing the involvement of Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, in helping six U.S. diplomats escape the country.

While reaction to the film has been mostly positive (it reportedly received a standing ovation at Friday’s premiere), Toronto Star columnist Martin Knelman suggests the filmmakers snubbed Taylor by not inviting him to the gala screening.

What’s more, Knelman (who has not seen the film but has spoken to several people who have) says it downplays Taylor’s important contributions during the crisis. That’s because the film – based on the memoir The Master of Disguise by former CIA spy Antonio J. Mendez – appears to ignore a more recent Canadian book, Our Man in Tehran by Trent University professor Robert Wright – that reveals Taylor was actually spying for the U.S. at the time and had a bigger role in the hostage crisis than many had believed.

From The Toronto Star:

According to [Taylor's friend Ralph] Lean and others who attended the premiere, Argo is an entertaining crowd-pleaser of a movie, but it downplays Taylor’s role while glorifying the CIA’s man, Tony Mendez (Affleck), whose job was to provide technical support for clandestine operations….

At the end of the movie, the CIA decides to let Canada have credit for the escape of the six, because otherwise the U.S. would be blamed and the other members of the U.S. embassy staff still being held hostage might be killed. (They were finally released in January 1981.)

The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.

Knelman points out another slight to Taylor: the ambassador, who was in his forties at the time of the crisis, is portrayed (by Canadian actor Victor Garber) as a 65-year-old man with grey hair. The American hero, by contrast, is played by the far more youthful Affleck.

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Midnight’s Children, Rust and Bone among literary adaptations at TIFF 2012

Marion Cotillard stars in the adaptation of Craig Davidson's Rust and Bone

This morning, the Toronto International Film Festival revealed the first 62 films that will screen at this year’s event, which takes place Sept. 6–16.

Although the festival is widely known as a Hollywood fan-fest, literature has always held a high-profile position at TIFF. Bookish entries for this year include filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s long-awaited adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize–winning allegorical novel Midnight’s Children and Rust and Bone, adapted from two short stories from the collection of the same name by Canadian writer Craig Davidson. The film is directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

One of the most anticipated adaptations is Joss Whedon’s modern-day take on the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing. For those who prefer their classics with corsets and lush scenery, Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright (Atonement) team up once again for an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and South Korean director Hur Jin-ho puts a twist on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by setting it in 1930s Shanghai.

Mike Newell’s (Four Weddings and a Funeral) new film may be the third cinematic version of Charles Dickens’ epic Great Expectations (it was also adapted for film in 1946 and 1998), but it’s the first starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. Dickens’ novel also inspired Mr. Pip, a drama set during the Papa New Guinean civil war, starring Hugh Laurie as an eccentric schoolteacher, adapted from Lloyd Jones’ Commonwealth Writers’ Prize–winning book of the same name.

In more contemporary fare, award-winning French director Laurent Cantet shot the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang in Peterborough, Ontario. Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist stars Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, and Riz Ahmed as a young Pakistani man pursuing corporate success on Wall Street. YA author Stephen Chbosky directs the film version of his own novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Emma Watson and Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev.

Although it’s not an adaptation, an author’s life comes under scrutiny in the drama Writers, starring Greg Kinnear as a novelist obsessed with his ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly).

Details on the announced films are available on TIFF’s website.

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Canadian literary event roundup: June 8-14

  • Patrick deWitt signing for Ablutions, Indigo Eaton Centre, Toronto (June 8, 12 p.m., free)
  • “The Adventure of the Process”: The Writer’s Guild of Alberta Conference and Alberta Book Awards Gala, Hotel Arts, Calgary (June 8–10, 5 p.m., from $80)
  • Insomniac Press Night featuring Liz Bugg, Jamie Popowich, and Natalie Zina Walschots, 7750 Mullhern St., Niagara Falls (June 8, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • Readings by Betty Jane Hegerat, Suzette Mayr, and Cathy Ostlere, Pages on Kensington, Calgary (June 8, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • “An Editor and an Agent Tell All” workshop, Four Corners Library, Brampton, ON (June 9, 10:30 a.m., $48, $44 advance)
  • “Stream of Conciousness” writing workshop with Bruce Kauffman, The Artel, Kingston (June 9, 7 p.m., $10)
  • Reading and discussion of Cathy Ostlere’s Lost: A Memoir, Shelf Life Books, Calgary (June 10, 2 p.m., free)
  • Niagara Literary Arts Festival presents a YA reading featuring Hermine Steinberg and Allison Bryson, Fine Grind Café, St. Catharines, ON (June 10, 2 p.m., free)
  • “Storytelling for Social Change” panel discussion as part of the Vancouver International Storytelling Festival, Vancouver Public Library Central Branch (June 10, 2:30 p.m., free)
  • Gloria Vanderbilt reads from The Things We Fear Most, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto (June 10, 7:30 p.m., $10, free for students)
  • Carol MacDougall and Shanda LaRamee-Jones launch Play Book, Keshen Goodman Library, Halifax (June 11, 10:30 a.m., free)
  • Jaime Forsythe reads from Sympathy Loophole, Alice Burdick launches Holler, and John Wall Barger launches Hummingbird, Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, Halifax (June 11, 7 p.m., free)
  • Vertigo Reading Series featuring Shelley Leedahl, Winter Fedyk, Adam Pottle, and Murray Arthur Logan, Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar, Regina (June 11, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • Reading and signing by Brian Henderson for Sharawadji, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg (June 12, 7 p.m., free)
  • Irvine Welsh discusses his new novel, Skagboys, with Eleanor Wachtel, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto (June 12, 9 p.m. $20)
  • An evening with poet Don Kerr, Regina Public Library (June 13, 7 p.m., free)
  • Reading and signing by Leslie Vryenhoek, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg (June 13, 8 p.m., free)
  • In celebration of Bloomsday Montreal, Dr. Dana Hearne discusses the importance of Nora Barnacle in James Joyce’s life and writing, and Dr. Gus O’Gorman reads from Ulysses, Atwater Library, Westmount, QC (June 14, 12:30 p.m., free)
  • Nicole Markotić launches her poetry collection Bent at the Spine, Pages on Kensington, Calgary (June 14, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • Atlantic Author Day, featuring signings by 48 authors at 34 locations across the East Coast (June 16, 10 a.m.)

Quillblog is looking for photos from literary events across Canada. Send your photos to scflinn@quillandquire.com.

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Book adaptations win at the Academy Awards

While they may not receive as much attention as the dog from The Artist, six out of nine films nominated for this year’s Best Picture at the Academy Awards were adapted from books.

Shane Smith, director of public programmes for the Toronto International Film Festival, says the high number is surprising. “It’s unique this year,” he says, “but it’s a trend that’s moving in the right direction. Producers are always looking for an audience.”

Smith believes a strong adaptation isn’t “necessarily about faithfulness to the source,” but says a film can bring deserved attention to the original material, such as Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel The Descendants, which became a bestseller as a result of Alexander Payne’s cinematic adaptation. “The book wasn’t wildly successful, but it’s turned into a wildly successful adaptation that’s done great things for the author,” Smith says.

While he won’t reveal his Oscar pool predictions, Smith was impressed by Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book about Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane. He says, “I’m really interested in non-fiction that’s turned into fiction film. It’s an interesting hybrid.”

The books that were adapted into 2012 Best Picture nominees are:

  • The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
  • The Help, Kathryn Stockett
  • Moneyball, Michael Lewis
  • War Horse, Michael Morpurgo

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James Ivory, Russell Banks among guest speakers for TIFF’s Books on Film series

James Ivory will discuss his adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End on June 18.

When the Toronto International Film Festival and Random House of Canada host a book club, the guest speakers are bound to be impressive.

The second season of TIFF’s Books on Film series, which screens cinematic adaptations of literary texts followed by discussion, is drawing big names from both the publishing and film industries.

Shane Smith, director of public programs for TIFF, says festival staff worked closely with the series host, CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel, to determine the lineup and guest speakers. “Eleanor’s well known for her work in literature, but she’s a big film buff as well, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of film,” says Smith.

In determining this year’s program, Smith says, “We looked at films we’d loved. Sometimes we’d drop a film and a book because we couldn’t get the right guest. Other times, the guest led the choice of film.”

Russell Banks, who will discuss the Academy Award–winning adaptation of his novel Affliction on Feb. 27, was “on our list from the get-go,” says Smith. “We’re thrilled we can get the book, get the film, and get him at the same place.”

Other guests include filmmaker Atom Egoyan on his adaptation of William Trevor’s novel Felicia’s Journey (Feb. 6); feminist film critic and author Molly Haskell on Cary Fukunaga’s version of Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre (March 26); and author Will Aitken on Luchino Visconti’s adaption of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice (April 16).

On May 14, Knopf Random Canada executive vice-president and publisher Louise Dennys will provide context for the 1949 thriller The Third Man, written by Dennys’ uncle, Graham Greene, and on June 18, James Ivory, director of some of contemporary cinema’s most celebrated literary adaptations, will discuss E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

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Weekend reading list: top stories from around our offices

Every weekend Q&Q rounds up the highlights from other websites in the St. Joseph Media family. This week’s top stories include a tribute to Apple and plenty of Thanksgiving recipes.

Grace Kelly gets the royal treatment at TIFF Lightbox [Toronto Life]

The fashionable ways of Steve Jobs [Fashion Magazine]

Fifteen easy slow cooker recipes [Canadian Family]

Chloe Berlanga’s Tortillas de Patatas recipe [Ottawa Magazine]

Our 10 recommended record shops [Where Canada]

Seven Thanksgiving pies, crumbles, and crisps [20 Minute Supper Club]

DIY wedding ideas from cakes to centrepieces [Wedding Bells]

Hooded Fang makes some noise in the Toronto Public Library [Torontoist]

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Book links round-up: happy authors, Amazon in Spain, and more

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Weekend reading from St. Joseph Media

From the latest film festival news to trendsetting fashions, here are the week’s top stories from around the St. Joseph Media offices:

Toronto Life: Up to the minute celebrity and industry news from the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

Fashion Magazine: Montreal Fashion Week Diary: with Barilà, and Anastasia Lomonova

Canadian Family: One mom’s tips for weight-loss success

Ottawa Magazine: Q&A with Wallis Giunta, opera singer and the face of McCaffrey Haute Couture

Where Canada: Canada’s national parks

20 Minute Supper Club: Nine after-school snacks they’ll love

Wedding Bells: Engagement ring picks For Hollywood’s fashion trendsetters

Torontoist: Full TIFF 2011 coverage

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15 TIFF films for the literary-minded

You’re not going to get close to Brad Pitt, in town this weekend for the premiere of Moneyball, the adaptation of Michael Lewis’s baseball book of the same name, but if you’re attending the Toronto International Film Festival this week, here are 15 more book-to-screen adaptations or literary-minded films to keep in mind.

Albert Nobbs: Glenn Close stars in the adaptation of George Moore’s 19th-century short story about an Irish woman who disguises herself as a man to work as a butler.

Almayer’s Folly: In 2000, director Chantal Akerman adapted the fifth volume of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu for the big screen; this time it’s Joseph Conrad’s debut novel.

Anonymous: Director Roland Emmerich travels back to the court of Queen Elizabeth I in this drama, which suggests Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have written Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

Chicken with Plums: Marjane Satrapi reunites with her Persepolis co-director Vincent Paronnaud to adapt the second graphic novel in the trilogy.

A Dangerous Method: David Cronenberg’s period piece is adapted from screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s play, which was based on John Kerr’s non-fiction work A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.

The Eye of the Storm: Charlotte Rampling plays an aging matriarch to Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis in this adaptation of Australian author Patrick White’s novel of the same name.

The First Man: A French film by Italian director Gianni Amelio, based on Albert Camus’ unfinished autobiographical novel Le premier homme, which the author was working on when he was killed in a car accident.

Habibi: A modern retelling of the ninth-century classical poem Majnun Layla (Mad for Layla), set in the Gaza Strip.

Hard Core Logo II: The sequel (or companion film) to the Canadian cult classic, based on the novel by Michael Turner, stars director Bruce McDonald.

Killer Elite: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro pull out the action for this film, adapted from Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ 1991 bestseller.

The Moth Diaries: Mary Harron takes on the complexities of female adolescence in this horror film, based on Rachel Klein’s vampire novel.

Monsieur Lazar: Set in a Montreal elementary school, Philippe Falardeau’s new film is expanded from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Chenelière.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Ewan McGregor stars as a scientist in Lasse Hallström’s adaptation of Paul Torday’s best-selling novel.

Trishna: It’s not the first time Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles has been made into a film, but this one is directed by Michael Winterbottom and set in India.

UFO in Her Eyes: Contemporary Chinese culture is explored in this adaptation of a novel by Xiaolu Guo, who also directed the film.

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Behind the big screen: Canadian lit adaptations

As producers arrive by the plane-load for the Toronto International Film Festival, Q&Q returns to its June 2011 issue, where seven Canadian production companies describe what they look for when adapting the printed word for film and TV.

DARIUS FILMS, TORONTO
Recently optioned: For Those About to Rock by Dave Bidini, Chump Change by David Eddie
What are they looking for? “It’s not necessary for a book or writer to be ‘known,’ but anything that helps give us an advantage when marketing the project is great. Lately I’ve tried to read more short story collections, because it feels like that format, often being less dense, can lend itself well to adaptation.” –Leah Jaunzems, development executive

Away From Her

FOUNDRY FILMS, TORONTO
Recently optioned: “Away From Her” by Alice Munro, Fruit by Brian Francis, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland, Helpless by Barbara Gowdy
What are they looking for? “I look for something in the book that has cinematic possibilities, whether it is the setting, particular characters, something which triggers thoughts of a movie.” – Daniel Iron, producer

Federgreen Entertainment, Toronto
Recently optioned: Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop, It Feels So Good When I Stop by Joe Pernice
What are they looking for? “Great storytelling that’s commercial and can find an audience or have a built-in audience, and can be made for a reasonable budget.” – Avi Federgreen, producer

Markham Street Films, Toronto
Recently optioned: Heaven Is Small by Emily Schultz, Sailor Girl by Sheree-Lee Olson, An Audience by Chairs by Joan Clark
What are they looking for? “Stories that we connect with emotionally.” – Judy Holm, producer/writer

Gang of 2, Vancouver
Recently optioned: The Case of Lena S. by David Bergen
What are they looking for? “We look for what the book-buying public looks for: great story, rich characters, and well-realized themes. Novels that are deeply internal are tough to translate to the screen.” – Angus Fraser, writer/producer

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

SHAFTESBURY FILMS, TORONTO
Recently optioned: Short stories by Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
What are they looking for? “We’re looking for a fresh take on a world that is brought to life by very special characters. We’re always looking for the fresh idea, that fresh voice.” – Christina Jennings, chairman and co-CEO

The Englishman’s Boy

MINDS EYE ENTERTAINMENT, REGINA
Recently optioned: Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy, The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe
What are they looking for? “Stories that will translate to a broad audience. Stories that are both visual and move people’s emotions. If books don’t make you feel emotion at some level then why read them? The same holds true for movies made from books. It’s about moving the audience.” – Kevin DeWalt, CEO

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Hall of Honourers

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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