TORONTO – CBC Radio “Writers & Company” host Eleanor Wachtel is well-known for her love of literature but she’s equally enthusiastic about film.
“In fact, when I was starting out in journalism, I could’ve gone either way in terms of writing about or talking about movies or books. And now sometimes when I embark on a 450-page novel, I think, ‘Oh, if I could watch a 2 1/2-hour movie.’ It is more compact,” the Montreal native said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview.
“(Film) takes you to another world. Novels do, too, in a very different way — in a different sense of interiority and intimacy. I used to recommend to friends, if they were feeling gloomy or whatever: (film) is, to me, the most powerful, non-pharmaceutical mood-alterer.
“You can go to a movie and you will come out in a different state of mind.”
Wachtel gets to revel in her love of cinema as host of TIFF Bell Lightbox’s “Books on Film” subscription series that kicks off a new season next week.
Run by the organization behind the Toronto International Film Festival, the series sees Wachtel speaking with filmmakers, authors and experts about the art and challenges of adaptation from literature to cinema. The chats happen after a screening of a featured film and before an audience Q&A.
The third season begins Monday with Wachtel and author/New Yorker theatre critic Hilton Als discussing the 1961 gothic horror film “The Innocents.” Director Jack Clayton adapted the story from Henry James’s classic ghost story novella “The Turn of the Screw.”
Wachtel said the novella was initially so successful that James felt readers weren’t taking his other books seriously enough.
When it was made into an opera by Benjamin Britten and then a play, it was a great irony because “James had great ambitions as a theatre guy and failed miserably, was booed off the stage and felt very crushed by that and went back to writing novels,” she added.
“So it’s a kind of modern classic and the movie, of course, with Deborah Kerr … is a slightly different take on the novella but it evokes the same unnerving creepiness.”
Next month, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Richard Russo will speak on Robert Benton’s adaptation of his novel “Nobody’s Fool.”
In April, film and music producer Lisa Cortes will speak about her involvement in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.”
And in May, screenwriter and playwright Christopher Hampton will chat about his Oscar–nominated adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement,” one of Wachtel’s favourite novels.
“He’s an author I particularly enjoy and have interviewed many times over the years,” said Wachtel, who also interviewed filmmakers when she hosted CBC Radio’s “The Arts Tonight” and has covered the Toronto film fest for 25 years.
“I remember when it came out, I couldn’t stop recommending it or buying it as presents. It’s just a very rich and complex novel, and I think in fact his newest book in a way harks back to that. He has a new novel called ‘Sweet Tooth’ but there are echoes of ‘Atonement.’”
In June, the series will have director Ted Kotcheff discussing his adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” and director Deepa Mehta detailing the screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.”
“The wonderful thing about these events is, we focus on a single film and relationship between the book … and the movie but also can bring in other experiences that the person I’m talking to, the director or the author, has had,” said Wachtel.
“For instance, Richard Russo … also had very big success with an HBO miniseries called ‘Empire Falls,’ from 2005, and he’s just written a memoir.”
The first 100 season subscribers to the “Books on Film” series receive a complimentary copy of each book featured, courtesy of Random House of Canada.