A collaboration between BAMPFA and the Bay Area Book Festival, “Auteur: Author,” explores how film celebrates, adapts, and creatively interprets the written word
Filmmakers have long drawn on books for inspiration. Indeed, in the last few months or so, we’ve seen adaptations of The Circle, Beauty and the Beast, and the comic book Guardians of the Galaxy V — not to mention small-screen adaptations like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
But while adaptation is part of the relationship between the page and the screen, it is far from the only expression of how these two art forms meet. The far-reaching synergy of these two mediums is the focus of the film series “Auteur, Author: Film and Literature,” a collaboration between the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) and the Bay Area Book Festival. The mini film festival runs May 31-June 4, just before and during the main book festival, and showcases films that explore the complex relationship between film and literature, auteur and author. Writers or filmmakers introduce the films or engage in post-screening conversations.
Tom Luddy, an early director and curator for the Pacific Film Archive and co-founder and co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, had the original idea for the film and literature series, which he then developed with Festival director Cherilyn Parsons and BAMPFA film curator Kathy Geritz.
Film and literature have been intertwined “from the beginning of cinema,” Luddy notes. “Naturally, both are concerned with telling great stories. Filmmakers have built on written literature in terms of story, character, structure, tone and more. But increasingly, the reverse is true, too. Literary authors are inspired by film — by the way that this visual medium tells stories and conveys emotion. At the Telluride Film Festival we often have guest curators who are authors selecting films that have influenced them. Both BAMPFA and the Bay Area Book Festival are creatively adventurous, and it seemed natural to bring them together.”
Geritz adds, “For us at BAMPFA, working with the the Book Festival is a perfect collaboration— Bay Area audiences are voracious readers and sophisticated filmgoers. Audiences are eager to engage in the myriad ways film and literature intersect, not only film adaptations of books, but also portraits of writers and essayistic meditations on the creative act of writing. Plus, the book festival invites numerous wonderful writers and filmmakers to present the films.”
“Auteur, Author” opens on Wednesday night with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a film by novel-to-film adaptation master Phil Kaufman (The Wanderers, The Right Stuff), who will be at the screening in conversation with historian and critic David Thomson.
“Kaufman is one of the great American directors,” says Luddy, “and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is very relevant to the world we live in today politically—unfortunately.”
Also (unfortunately) politically relevant is the Faulkner adaptation Intruder in the Dust, which was one of the first films to break the Hollywood taboo on the subject of racism and is set in Jim Crow America. “Many articles about this film say that its time has finally come to be appreciated as one of the strongest films about race in this country,” Luddy notes. As a special treat, the screening will include an appearance and discussion with Claude Jarman, Jr., who starred in the film 60 years ago.
The series ends Sunday night, closing out the book festival, with another adaptation, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment, which draws on documentary footage of revolutionary Cuba and is an instance where people tend to prefer the film. Luddy says that even “the author has been quoted as saying he thinks the film is better.”
Geritz notes, “Many people think it’s one of the best Cuban films. It’s also a film about a writer. So it’s a lovely film to include it in the series. Not only is the film an adaptation of a book, the book is a semi-autobiographical story about the author/screenwriter Edmundo Desnoes’ experiences as a writer. It’s got a lot of layers.”
Parsons, the festival director, notes that the film also picks up on a festival panel session on Cuba with leading authors appearing on Sunday morning at 11:15. “Go to Cuba on a Sunday, from Berkeley!”
Geritz points out other insightful films that explore the ‘author’ half of the “Auteur, Author” series, “including reflections on quintessential writers from Japan and Mexico.” On Friday night, 100 Years with Juan Rulfo portrays a portrait of the Mexican father of magic realism, presented by his son, the filmmaker Juan Carlos Rulfo. (It too has a corresponding festival literary session, “The Legacy of Juan Rulfo,” on Saturday.)
Mishima is a phantasmagoric biopic on the illustrious Japanese author, who died by ritual suicide during the height of his fame by having his cult followers decapitate him. Executive produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Paul Schrader, it will be introduced by National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner. “Auteur, Author” will screen a special director’s cut version which includes previously deleted scenes.
Two other films profile publishers who battled censorship: A Very British Pornographer is about Jack Kahane, whose Olympia Press in Paris published books too racy for puritanical Brits and Americans (including Anais Nin and Henry Miller), and Obscene, a film about Barney Rosset, founder of the legendary Grove Press, the first American publisher of Samuel Beckett, Kenzaburo Oe, Tom Stoppard, Che Guevara, John Rechy, and Malcolm X. Rosset went to the Supreme Court to break the obscenity ban on works of fiction such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch. This Saturday early evening double-header is introduced by journalist Robert Scheer.
A special treat is Stalker, a masterpiece by Sergei Tarkovsky, introduced by Geoff Dyer—whose book, Zona, Geritz describes as “an amazing meditation on that film.” Writing in The New Republic, David Thomson called it “the most stimulating book on a film in years.”
If those don’t satisfy your movie appetites, Luddy and Geritz point out two other films they’re excited about, one of which takes place right here in Berkeley. California Typewriter is a documentary centered around one of the last typewriter repair shops, also called California Typewriter.
“The filmmaker [Doug Nichol] stumbled into this store and decided to make a film about people who love and use typewriters,” Luddy says. “I have never seen anything like it. Everybody who has seen it loves this film. It’s full of surprises. Plus, one great result of showing this film is that the African-American family who’s running that store has been able to stay in business. It’s really wonderful.”
“That film made me think about the hand-mind connection with art,” adds Geritz. “In the film, Tom Hanks and others [including Don Delillo and John Mayer] say they can only write on a typewriter.” California Typewriter will be not be generally distributed until the fall, so this screening is an advance peek in Berkeley. What’s more, Steve Wasserman, publisher of Heyday Books, will interview Nichol and the California Typewriter owner and staff.
Geritz and Luddy also drew attention to The Secret Garden, introduced by New York Times bestselling author Caroline Paul, of The Gutsy Girl. “Every year we try to show a work for children or younger people,” Geritz says. “It’s so important to emphasize reading at a young age. Plus, The Secret Garden is a whole lot of people’s favorite book when they were young.”
For more detailed film descriptions, see the schedule.