Books on Screen

Do you get tired of trying to determine whether a book is worth reading by skimming the back flap? Hoping that some reviewer at Podunk News Weekly's assessment of "stirring, evocative... a work for all time" is actually approaching accurate and not written to curry favour with Massive Publishing House?

What about films "based on the book" that end up eviscerating novels you enjoy? (Disney has a few unsettled debts in that department). There is now another combination of prose and film that doesn't ruin the ending, and functions more as a back cover blurb than a complete narrative derived from the book in question.

Rather than seeking to capture an entire book on film, BookShorts aim to grab the essence of the book, functioning more as an ad for the title rather than media complete in and of themselves.. They're meant to create interest, suggest a mood, and address subject matter without detracting from the mystery of an unread title.

Not quite short films, more sophisticated than commercials, this is somewhat reminiscent of those BMW films without all the special effects and fancy directors,(and, sadly, Clive Owen). Ultimately product driven, but still with stylistic merit and a concern for narrative interest.

I like books and films, so seeing them meet in short format, designed for mass consumption (too many shorts fly under the radar by virtue of their format - other than festivals, where is the venue?) is promising. Although I don't know that books require advertising - the flaw here seems to me that books with the advertising budget to burn on film production tend not to be the titles that need promotion (ie, I assume everyone knows when Harry Potter is coming out). Then again, perhaps shorts like these can draw in reluctant readers - intrigued by the short, they might pop into a bookshop, read the first couple of pages, then who knows? They might put it down, might buy it, might start wandering around and pick up other titles.

The films currently available for your viewing pleasure on the BookShorts website:

What Casanova Told Me by Susan Swan
To be broadcast on TVO June 10th and 12th.
This short is somewhat hobbled by it's reliance on voiceover, possibly chosen because the action of the book is about or in letters (NB - I haven't read it). There isn't much drama in the visual execution, and until the end where the characters actually speak, there is no real hint of what the book's present action contains. While the other two shorts reveal compelling character or touch on the subject enough to evoke curiosity, we learn nothing of either of these here. Though the end is somewhat suggestive and provoking, it didn't actually make me want to read the book. More character and less voice over would have been far more effective.

A Quiet Courage by Paula Todd
The first documentary BookShort
This short is driven by Todd's insistent questions, and tight editing of a combination of interviews with Paula Todd, and her interviews with others, with some dramatic and historical images thrown in, captures the pace and energy of her questioning. This film gives a sense of her tenacity and determination, and genuine interest in her subject, which we assume is expanded upon in her book.

Ice: Beauty Danger History by Pauline Couture
Narrated by the author, with stunning and evocative images of vast wintry landscapes, scientific animations and mathematical equations. The film begins in a manner suggestive of something one might watch in science class, but the tone quickly heightens and the nicely edited images give a sense of breadth that the book's subject requires. A brief string of more mundane images - people sculpting ice - feels slightly silly, but ends quickly and the overall impression of the weight of Couture's subject matter remains.

Another short, for This Hour has Seven Decades by Patrick Watson,
This short premiers at the World Wide Short Film Festival June 15. The 'making of' shorts (also available on the BookShorts website), which are curiously ads for the ad, promise a comedic take on the subject and jovial interview subjects.

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