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  • Jennifer Green

Why Literary Adaptations Like ‘Robot Dreams’ Are Thriving in Spain (Hollywood Reporter)

Orson Welles famously started but never finished an adaptation in Spain of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ beloved 17th-century novel. Terry Gilliam’s first attempt to shoot his take on Quixote fell apart so spectacularly in 2000 that it resulted in a widely viewed “unmaking-of” documentary titled, grimly, Lost in La Mancha

But they weren’t just tilting at windmills. Gilliam completed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote nearly two decades later, making it one of literally dozens of screen adaptations from around the world based on the widely published novel. In April, Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenábar (The Sea Inside)will start shooting on The Captive, an origin tale about a young, storytelling Cervantes in an Algiers prison in 1575.

Spanish literature — and its literary figures — have been inspiring filmmakers since the dawn of cinema. According to a now-defunct Cervantes Virtual Library database, considered incomplete by some accounts, in Spain almost 1,200 literary adaptations were produced or co-produced between 1905 and 2013.

Today, “the interest in books for possible film adaptations has been increasing year after year,” according to Anna Soler-Pont, founder and director of Barcelona-based Pontas Literary and Film Agency, which has been in the business for more than three decades and represents authors on five continents.

Recent successes are fueling competition for source material, particularly in certain genres, while directors and producers say they’re being approached by publishers earlier than ever before. “In the last 10 years, there have been more and more literary adaptations,” affirms director Isabel Coixet, the European Film Academy’s 2023 European Achievement in World Cinema Award winner.

“In the last month, I think I’ve been offered five adaptations from different countries,” Coixet says, “and I thought I was never going to do another adaptation!” Coixet’s most recent drama, Un Amor, was based on the best-selling novel by Sara Mesa, and in 2017 she won a best international literary adaptation prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair (as well as top Goya Awards) for her adaptation of author Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop.

Researchers in the field see new trends, such as an interest in younger and more diverse authors and formats, including comics, as well as writer-directors adapting their own works, for example from the theater. 

Directors find inspiration in all kinds of stories. Pablo Berger, whose graphic novel-inspired animated feature Robot Dreams recently won best adapted script and animated feature Goyas and is now nominated for an Oscar, describes discovering American author Sara Varon’s wordless book when his daughter was a toddler learning to read. 

Years later, he recalls, “I was having a coffee in my office and procrastinating, and I took out the book and read it again, and again I was fascinated. I thought it was funny, unique, surreal. When I got to the end, I was completely, deeply moved.” In that moment, he says, he envisioned the film he would make.

Read the full article at The Hollywood Reporter.


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