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Off the Page: Writers on Screen

Read Monday, 6 Jul 2020

Off the page and onto the screen, Hollywood conjures the imagination into being … or at least, another form of imagining. This collection highlights discussions with international guests whose work engages with the screen  writing, acting, or adapting – exploring what motivates us to craft and consume stories.

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Over the years, we’ve been lucky to host some incredible local screen talent, including David Gulpilil, star of the 1971 film Walkabout, in conversation with At the Movies co-host Margaret Pomeranz, and our recent livestream with actor, writer and producer Miranda Tapsell, who spoke with Nakkiah Lui about the box office hit Top End Wedding, and her correlating memoir Top End Girl.

Here, we revisit conversations with guests who have travelled across the globe to touch on their careers on camera, behind it, or at the genesis of storycraft.

Alia Shawkat’s first acting role was in the 2006 Christmas classic Deck the Halls, where she acted alongside Matthew Broderick and Danny Devito at just 16 years old. Since then, she has become a highly sought after actress in both film and television, starring in a number of off-beat and wildly funny series and films, including Search Party, Arrested Development, Whip It, Ruby Sparks, and guest appearances on Portlandia and Broad City. She also starred, executive produced and co-wrote the 2018 raw and experimental comedy film, Duck Butter, that explores the consequences of a relationship sped up and crammed into 24 hours. 

Visiting in 2018 for Melbourne International Film Festival, Shawkat shared her experience working with director Ethan Hawke on Blaze, as Sybil Rosen. To Lorin Clarke, Alia reveals the vulnerability that can be reached in acting and film making, discussing romantic attachment, heartbreak and her unique approach to storytelling on screen. She tells us: ‘When you’re more willing to delve into the stuff you’re scared about yourself, the more powerful your work can be.’ 

Egyptian-American André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name is an exploration of queer sexuality, all-encompassing desire and love. Ten years later, it was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by Luca Guadagnino, and became a summertime hit.

Visiting Melbourne to promote his latest novel, Enigma Variations, Aciman shared a warm, wit-filled conversation with writer and academic Dennis Altman on place, language, memory and remorse. In this podcast, Aciman proves he is a deep thinker and romantic philosopher, touching on his brush with Hollywood fame, and his mesmerising and endearing characters that have been brought to life by stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. 

Armando Iannucci is a writer and broadcaster who has written, directed and produced numerous critically acclaimed television and radio comedy shows. His screenplays and works have been nominated for many awards, including an Academy Award, 13 BAFTA Awards, and two Emmys. His 2019 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield stars Lion’s charismatic Dev Patel, and scored him an invite to the Dickens’ family dinner for its celebration of the author’s work. 

In conversation with Annabel Crabb, who describes Iannucci’s linguism as the ‘Fabergé egg of swearing’, the two discuss character inspiration and political satire in his at-the-time yet-to-be-released 2018 film, The Death of Stalin

In 2018, Clementine Ford and Robert Webb talked about Webb’s memoir How Not to Be a Boy, masculinity in crisis, and masculinity as crisis. Webb has had a long and successful career in comedy, TV, theatre and radio, most famously as Jeremy in the award-winning sitcom Peep Show. In this conversation, he articulates his struggles with the notion of modern manhood and fatherhood, and brings his personal brand of self-deprecating, subtly intelligent comedy to the subject. At its heart, he says, the book is about learning how to be a kind person.

Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the most celebrated writers working in the English language today. Three of his books have been adapted into film — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated, and most recently, his work of non-fiction on conscious eating, Eating Animals. Host and former Wheeler Centre Director Michael Williams pinpoints the qualities in Safran Foer’s work that make it so appealing to film makers — a sense of adventure, and a fascination with voices across generations. Listen back to this insightful conversation with the brilliant writer here. 

In 2017, the 26 year old Californian novelist Brit Bennett spoke with former Wheeler Centre Head of Programming Emily Sexton about her stirring first novel, The Mothers. The Mothers is a story that navigates both familiar coming-of-age fare, and complex ethical challenges with intelligence and wry humour. 

Bennett has garnered interest from large production companies for both The Mothers and her second novel, The Vanishing Half. Just last week, HBO won the rights in a bidding war to adapt The Vanishing Half for a limited new series, with Bennett herself set to executive produce. Bennett talks about the duties of writers, the politics of art, the burdens of identity, and The Mothers in this Wheeler Centre podcast episode. 

Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Underground Railroad is another highly anticipated adaptation to look out for. It revolves around young Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. The adaptation is being led by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins. 

Whitehead’s subjects traverse slavery, poker, commercial nomenclature and zombies. His writing is unflinching and virtuosic. With Michael Williams, Whitehead discusses race and resistance in fiction, his omnivorous approach to genre and his compelling characters. 

And while many of us consume screen content purely for entertainment, there is always much to dissect. New Yorker’s TV critic Emily Nussbaum has won a large and devoted international audience by giving contemporary television the insightful, attentive and entertaining criticism it deserves. In partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival, Nussbaum joined Bhakthi Puvanenthiran for a discussion of art and storytelling on screen in Culture, Criticism and TV Today. 

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.