Canada’s cup is running over with incredibly talented writers — it’s always been that way. It makes perfect sense then that our work is frequently adapted to film. For this month’s TFS List we’re suggesting some films based on Canadian novels and short stories that you might not be familiar with. Sure, we could have suggested you see The English Patient (it is a Best Picture winner, after all), or Life of Pi (a Best picture nominee), or Water for Elephants, or even Field of Dreams, but it is much more fun to suggest some films you haven’t seen, and better yet, some books you probably haven’t read. Here are the best Canadian film adaptations you should see, then go grab a copy of the books.
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
In 1983, Walt Disney Pictures adapted the Farley Mowat book “Never Cry Wolf” about a government researcher sent to the north to discover the true “menace” of the wolves who make their home there. Living with the wolves changes his life, and the film is a touching (if Disney-fied) story about a man communing with nature. Since Farley Mowat is one of Canada’s great, albeit forgotten, novelists, encompassing some of the greatest books written about our wilderness, this is definitely a film that’s worth the watch. It also stars Charles Martin Smith (a.k.a. That Guy!) and Brian Dennehy (a.k.a. That Guy Who’s Always the Bad Guy Except in F/X!).
Rare Birds (2001)
“Rare Birds” was written by Edward Riche and adapted into a Canadian film of the same name in 2001. Starring William Hurt and Molly Parker, the film tells the story of Dave (Hurt), a restaurant owner in small town Newfoundland whose business is failing. He and his friend Alphonse (Andy Jones) hatch (get it?) a plan to claim a sighting of a very rare bird near the restaurant in hopes that people will flock there to chance seeing it. The plan works, and soon Dave has to hire Alice (Parker) to carry some of the workload. Unfortunately, Alphonse gets them into deeper trouble with a plan involving a submarine and cocaine. This film is fun and a little bit wacky and while the critical reception was tepid, audiences seem to love it.
Dancing in the Dark (1986)
Dancing in the Dark, based on the book by Joan Barfoot and adapted by director Leon Marr, told the story of one woman’s descent into mental illness brought on by the responsibilities and isolation of being a housewife. Martha Henry, one of this country’s truly great screen and stage actors, portrays Edna, a woman trapped by the responsibilities of being a woman in a certain time. While not currently available on DVD, the story is told gently, but is still searing, and is a crushing indictment of the type of lives women used to be expected to live. This list could have easily included Margaret Atwood, but this film better embodies many of the same feminist principles than the adaptations of Atwood’s work.
Whale Music (1994)
Whale Music is one of those films which, if you’ve seen it, you love it. Maury Chaykin stars as a former rock star who has sequestered himself in his oceanside home, haunted by memories of his former success and memories of his brother’s recent death, and trying to make whale music – music made from whale sounds that he can use to summon the creatures. One day a runaway (Cyndy Preston) turns up on his doorstep and wheedles her way into his life and heart. Touching and funny, this film is one you can return to again and again. The film was adapted by Paul Quarrington, who wrote the book, and Richard J. Lewis, who directed the film. The film won Genies for Best Original Song (by The Rheostatics, naturally), Best Overall Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
Dance Me Outside (1994)
Dance Me Outside was adapted from a book of short stories by the same name by W.P. Kinsella. Directed by Bruce McDonald and starring Hugh Dillon, Adam Beach and Jennifer Podemski, the film is a fun romp about a couple of guys trying to figure out the larger questions in life like what to do with their live and what women are all about. The film is one of the first great stereotype-smashing movies about Native culture, which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering it was adapted by McDonald, John Frizzell and Don McKellar. The stories in this book were also later used as the inspiration for the Canadian TV show “The Rez”.
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