Back in 2012, I wrote three posts (here, here and here) sharing some of my favourite film and television adaptations of Australian novels and plays. With recent(ish) announcements about more adaptations in the offing, I thought it worth writing an updating post.
To get us going, here are some of the adaptations that have been announced over the last few years, which is not to say that they will actually make it to the screen:
- Emily Bitto’s The strays (my review)
- Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe (my review)
- Peter Goldsworthy’s Wish
- Hannah Kent’s Burial rites (my review)
- Hannah Kent’s The good people
- Alice Pung’s Laurinda
When these announcements are made it can be very early in the process. It may simply be that developmental funding has been allocated – and, as the saying goes, there can be many a slip betwixt cup and lip.
Meanwhile, I was intrigued while researching this update, to come across an announcement for a symposium on Adaptation and the Australian Novel being run by the Centre for Critical and Creative Writing at the University of Queensland in June this year. The announcement starts with this:
Landmark Australian novels are being adapted for the stage and screen at a rate we’ve not seen for many decades. In the 2015 to 2020 period alone, what was previously a steady trickle has become a flood as the nation’s various mediums of cultural transmission have offered reimagined versions of much-loved novels …
They name many titles we have seen on our screens over the last few years including, on TV, The slap (my review) and Barracuda (my review), and on the big screen, Jasper Jones (my review) and The ladies in black (my review).
The symposium will include keynote speeches by “international critical adaptation theorist Frances Babbage” and “internationally-acclaimed stage and screen writer, and adaptor of the landmark The Secret River text, Andrew Bovell”. There will also be an in-conversation session between Christos Tsiolkas and Andrew Bovell, discussing Bovell’s adaptation of Tsiolkas’s novel Loaded for the screen. The announcement also calls for proposals for 20-minute papers. They list the sorts of topics they’re looking for, such as Adaptations and gender, and Indigeneity, race and ethnicity, and landscape, and so on. You can see the complete list at the link above.
These topics draw from what I thought was the most interesting paragraph in the announcement, the paragraph that poses the questions they think need to be considered:
Questions that arise here include: Why the rush on Australian adaptation now? What’s fuelling the appetite for this locally themed work, and why is it being distributed internationally via digital platforms such as Amazon and Netflix? Is there a ‘house style’ emerging either at particular theatre companies or television production houses who are leading this push? Whose stories are being canonised in this tranche of largely Anglo-Celtic authored works, and whose voices are doing the adapting? What version of Australian national identity becomes enshrined in this process, and whose perspectives are elided or omitted?
While all these are valid questions, I have highlighted those that I think are of most interest to Whispering Gums readers. In my brief research of the internet, I found nothing much else discussing this issue of perspective and representation, so I hope these papers are podcast and/or published.
Unrelated to this issue, but interesting too, is that of why so few adaptations, comparatively speaking, in the Australian screen industry. This was raised in The Guardian back in 2014. Apparently, in Hollywood, more than half of its movies are adaptations, while in Australia it’s less than 20%. MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) apparently hosted an event which brought together Australian book publishers and film producers. The thinking was that “if a successful film can be crafted from a book, more sales will result, benefitting publishers and authors as well as the filmmakers.” Makes sense to me. Various reasons for the low rate of adaptations are put forward in the article, including cost and the fact that book culture is very different to film culture. Overall, the reasons seemed to me to be applicable to the adaptation industry in general, rather than explaining why the Australia-Hollywood discrepancy, although one panelist believed that in the USA “distributors and agents are constantly on the lookout for book properties that are capable of being turned into films”.
Finally, though this goes back even further to 2010, there’s an Occasional Paper published by Screen Australia, titled Mitigating Risk: The case for more adaptations in the Australian film industry. It was written by Matthew Hancock, as part of the Master of Arts program at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He notes the declining proportion of adaptations in Australia to under 20% since 1999, which, he says, “is significant because adaptations, both in Australia and in foreign markets like the US, tend to perform well, attracting a higher proportion of box office than their proportion in release”.
So, my question is: Do you prefer adaptations over original screen stories? And, leading question, thinking particularly of that issue of perspective and representation, is there a literary work that you would love to see adapted?