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The Eleventh Hour to discuss literature to film adaptation

BY LU SHEN | JULY 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Great Gatsby has been adapted to film six times, including the most recent 3D version. Yet there are a thousand Gatsbys in a thousand people’s eyes.

Nick Twemlow, a poet and filmmaker, will share his experience of turning a book into a film as well as talking about his frustrations with literature and adaptation in an Iowa Summer Writing Festival Eleventh Hour event on July 17 in 101 Biology Building East.

At the beginning of the presentation, Twemlow will screen his work-in-progress movie, The Fast, an adaptation of a poetry book of the same name by Hannah Weiner. The film is about a budding filmmaker who doesn’t care about commercial movies and has made an “impossible-to-watch” movie based on an avant-garde text that’s hard to read.

“Even though it’s not a clearly direct adaptation of the book, it requires the similar uses of the imagination of creating,” said Twemlow, who said he hopes the experience of creation and interpretation will resonate with the audience, which he expects will be mostly Writing Festival participants.

Twemlow, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who got a second M.F.A in film and video production last year, said adapting stories in any form is almost like re-creating the literature.

“Even if you’re doing literal translations as faithful to the book as you can, you still have to imagine a different universe than the book, because typically, you don’t have enough time to tell the whole story,” Twemlow said. “And once you start shaving characters, cutting characters, every time you do that, you’re altering the universe, and you’re making a new one that’s totally different, even it has the same name.”

Besides talking about using imagination to transform a literary work into another version, Twemlow — who said he is at the crossroads of what to do with his movie — said he looks forward for feedback from the audience, most of whom are writers from different writing workshops.

“I’m not looking for people to say, ‘Oh, I love this; this is brilliant,’ [though] I would love to hear that, or, ‘I hate this; this sucks,’ ” he said. “I’m kind of looking for more constructive feedback.”

In addition to directing the film, Twenlow also starred as the main character — who is, coincidentally, a director — having to “act without acting.” He said the shooting experience was exhausting yet “incredibly fun.”

The cast was composed of graduate students from different departments with a passion for acting, including anthropologists, filmmakers, and writers, which Twenlow referred to as a “weird but great mix.”

Poet Robert Fernandez, who plays the film’s financier, said he enjoyed the experience, which he believe is relevant to him as a poet because the film is adapted from an experimental text by radical poet Weiner.

“In Nick’s work as a poet and an artist, there’s a deeply satiric bent — a self-critical and art-world critical bent,” Fernandez said. “This film cannibalizing itself and going off the rails is mimetic of that.”

“It’s an entertaining movie, but it also takes serious shots at and asks serious questions about art and artists that/who take itself/themselves too seriously,” said Fernandez, a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop.

The Eleventh Hour is a series of hourlong presentations about writing given by Writing Festival instructors and writers from the Midwest area at 11 a.m. each weekday.

“I think people like having a sense that Iowa City is the literary destination,” said program assistant Mary Hickman. “The Midwest has a lot to offer culturally as far as literature goes, so it’s part of the appeal of having people from the Midwest.”

Halfway through this year’s summer session, Hickman said, Eleventh Hour has not only welcomed writers from all over the country but also locals who attend the lectures regularly.

Hickman, also a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop, said she is excited about the festival because it is like an annual carnival for both festival instructors and participants and for her as well.

“[You come here], and you get the one intense week where everybody around you is also a writer, you feel all this kind of similar energy and excitement,” Hickman said. “It’s just a weird, beautiful feeling of belonging, I think. I think that being around that is really energizing for my own work, too.”

Now in its 27th year, the Writing Festival has welcomed participants from various ages and from around country and world. Most of the writers participating in the workshops bring expertise from other areas, cross different genres, and represent various levels of literary practice — but are united by a passion for writing.


What: Eleventh Hour, Nick Twemlow, “Not So Fast: Turning a Book into a Movie is Hard”
When: 11 a.m. July 17
Where: 101 Biology Building East
Admission: Free


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