The Cinema Café series kicked off today at the Sundance Film Festival's Filmmaker Lodge with a packed house for a wide-ranging discussion about the art of writing. The talent on stage was impressive, including filmmakers Nicole Holocener (Please, Give), Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Howl), screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (Nowehere Boy) and author Russell Banks, who is a member of the U.S. Dramatic Competition jury. Running things was the always charming and erudite Howard Rodman, who wrote past Sundance favorites August, Savage Grace and Joe Gould's Secret. Rodman echoed my thoughts when he opened the event by telling the crowd: "The fact that we're here and you're all here is a minor miracle."
The format was very informal and the panel featured a nice balance between actual insight and entertaining asides. (All this despite the early hour - because here at Sundance, a 10:30 a.m. event can mean only a couple hours of sleep.) Epstein and Friedman discussed the difficulties of creating a film based on a poem, revealing that they ultimately drew on several primary sources to create a structural 'mash up' of five different 'narrative strains'. Rodman wondered how their writing partnership worked, wondering 'which one of you sits and which one of you paces'. Laughing, Epstein revealed that neither he nor Friedman are the sedentary type, 'So we run into each other a lot.'
Banks offered a different perspective on adaptation, as several of his books have been made into films. When Rodman asked if he was the type of writer to agonize over the changes necessary in this process, Banks cut in and noted that such things are easier to take 'Now that there's a kidney-shaped pool in your backyard'.