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  • Writer's pictureRachel Sherlock

2018 Sundance Film Festival: A Film Adaptation ReadingList

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

A new year means a fresh new set of films up for consideration in the various awards and festivals across the world. One of the earliest film festivals each year is the Sundance Film Festival, and with lots of premieres being held at the festival it’s a great opportunity to take a look at the movies that are coming up for 2018. As always there’s a great selection of book-to-movie adaptations to be found. From historical non-fiction to contemporary literary fiction, there’s a wonderful range of books that have made their way to the silver screen. Here are thirteen books which have movies showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. If there are any that I’ve missed please do comment them below.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myer’s acclaimed young adult novel Monster was published in 1999, but is more relevant than ever before. It follows the story of a young black teen named Steve Harmon who is facing a murder charge. We follow the trial as well as getting flashbacks to the events that led to Steve’s arrest. The novel looks at themes that continue to grip our news feeds, including issues of race, crime, dehumanization, and perhaps most of resonant of all, the subjective nature of truth.

Up-and-coming star Kelvin Harrison Jr takes the lead role in the film adaptation, supported by acting veterans including Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle and Jennifer Hudson. The film’s use of inner monologue will hopefully give Steve a powerful voice for the modern era.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Emily M. Danforth’s novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post has been hailed as being a brave new take on the coming-of-age novel. The book follows the eponymous Cameron Post, a teenager who has gone to live with her ultra religious aunt after the death of her parents in a car crash. When Cameron is caught kissing another girl on prom night, her aunt sends her to a conversion therapy centre. There Cameron experiences dubious methods to try to change her sexuality but she also finds herself in the middle of an unlikely gay community. This adaptation, starring Chloë Grace Moretz as the lead character, promises to be a bold and refreshing take on a typical tropes of teen movies.

Living in the Woods in a Tree by Sybil Rosen

Living in the Woods in a Tree is a look at the life of country musician Blaze Foley. While the outlaw country movement is better remembered for musicians such as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Foley has become a legend in his own right. His tragic life has few remaining traces, except for his deeply personal songs, and now this book written by his lover and muse Sybil Rosen. Rosen recounts their life living in a treehouse in the woods of Georgia during the era of counterculture and paints a portrait of the musician who refused to live by the rules of society. It is a tender look at this enigmatic figure.

Directing this adaptation is Academy Award nominated actor, author, and director Ethan Hawke. The film is simply titled Blaze, but Rosen’s book has its presence, as Rosen was a co-writer for the film, along with Hawke. Portraying the singer is newcomer Benjamin Dickey. This creative partnership has us in great anticipation to see the exploration of the place where a man becomes a legend.

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

This novella by Jonathan Ames certainly packs a punch. Ames is known for his easy, raconteur style, but for You Were Never Really Here he turns to a no-frills style for this gritty and harrowing story of one man’s search for revenge. Following his abusive childhood, Joe became an FBI agent and a Marine. With more than his fair share of inner demons, Joe now spends his days earning a living by rescuing girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade. However, one job, to save the daughter of a corrupt New York Senator, brings his whole world down around him, and he must seek out and destroy the men hunting him


The film adaptation premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where its writer-director Lynne Ramsay won for the Best Screenplay award, and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the role of Joe, won the award for Best Actor. It also received a seven-minute standing ovation at its screening at the festival. Suffice it to say we can expect great things from this adaptation.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture by Josh Karp

National Lampoon was one of the most influential comedy forces to sweep America, best remembered for its monumental success with the film Animal Shack. A Futile and Stupid Gesture by Josh Karp is a biography of Doug Kenney, both the mind and heart behind National Lampoon. Karp follows National Lampoon as it grew from a scrappy and divisive magazine, to a radio show, and eventually to film projects, in the process launching the careers of comedy legends Bill Murray, John Belushi, and many more.

Gathered from over 130 interviews with the key players of the time, Karp captures the humour and nostalgia of the era before Kenney’s mysterious death. The biography has now been adapted by acclaimed comedy direction David Wain, and produced by Netflix. With Wain, and his impressive cast ensemble, we can expect to get an authentic (if perhaps not entirely accurate) experience of the wild and madcap antics by some of the biggest influencers in American comedy.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked sees another of Nick Hornby’s novels hit the big screen. Previous adaptations, including High Fidelity and About a Boy have been audience favourites, while others such as A Long Way Down have not struck a chord. No doubt director Jesse Peterz will be hoping to fall in with the latter, and he certainly has a stellar cast to get him there with Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O’Dowd all starring.

The story follows Annie a long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, a cosseted music fan who is more devoted to his obsession with obscure singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe than he is with his relationship. When Crowe releases new music after a 25 year break, it has ramifications for the couple that extend even to the rocker musician himself. As with High Fidelity, the story has a significant emphasis placed on music, this will no doubt lend itself to film adaptation, and sees Hornby at the themes that he does best.

Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff

Moving from fiction to biography, and to the incredible true story of Moe Berg, the major-league baseball player who also worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. Blending his public celebrity with secret activities, Berg was a highly skilled spy who spoke nine languages. He led a mission to ascertain Germany’s status on developing nuclear bombs, and to eliminate scientists who might be helping Germany reaching that goal.

Ben Lewin directs this adaptation which follows Berg from his days as a baseball player to his days as a secret agent in World War II. The cast is headed up by Paul Rudd as Berg, but he is far from the only star, with Jeff Daniels and Guy Pearce playing fellow spies, and Paul Giamatti as the scientist at the centre of the nuclear mission. As a political thriller film, The Catcher Was a Spy will hopefully deliver on all the adrenaline and mystery of the real events.

White Fang by Jack London

Next we move to a kid’s movie based on the classic novel by Jack London. Set in the 1890s, in the Klondike Gold Rush, White Fang centres on a wolfdog, the eponymous character, and his interactions with humanity. Seeing the best and the worst of the world, from the compassion of a passer-by goldminer to the cruelty of the dog-fighting pits of Fort Yukon. These extremes of experience are also to be found in the animal kingdom, and London’s novel explores this relationship of nature with mankind.

The adaptation has been directed by Luxembourger animator Alexandre Espigares, who received an Academy Award in 2013, for co-directing the animated short film Mr Hublot. White Fang film is far from the mechanical and urban landscape of Mr Hublot, but Espigares seems to have captured the epic majesty of the wilderness necessary for this story.

The Death of Stalin by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Fabien Nury’s comic has reached a global stage with a star studded film adaptation. Directed by Armando Iannucci, acclaimed creator of comedy shows including The Thick Of It and Veep, the cast is made up of a slew of renowned actors including Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, and Jeffrey Tambor. Iannucci commented that "Within minutes of starting to read the graphic novel, I knew I wanted to make the movie version." This is hardly surprising as Nury (along with the work of artist Theirry Robin) has created a graphic novel that immediately draws its readers in with the incredible yet historical absurdity surrounding the death of one of the most infamous dictators. The dark comedy of the absolute corruption at the top of the Stalinist regime is portrayed without becoming overblown. It is certainly a work of fiction but one that did not need to stretch reality to achieve its appalling chaos.

We the Animals by Justin Torres

Justin Torres debut novel is a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story of three half-white, half-Puerto Rican brothers. Constantly confronted by the destructive, volatile, and at times beautiful love between their parents, two of the brothers are drawn into the cycle, replicating the behaviour they see around them. The youngest brother, Jonah, on the other hand sees the need to escape, into his own world of fantasy. It is a powerful and lyrical book, short but more powerful for Torres’ brevity. The film adaptation promises to convey the striking emotion while also conveying the imagined fantasties of Jonah through stunning animated sequences. Director Jeremiah Zagar is better known for his documentaries, however he has used this opportunity to initiate a powerful transformation in his career.

Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Naturally this story draws its inspiration from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but in this young adult novel Lisa Klein tells the story from the perspective of the much-wronged Ophelia. In Klein’s story Ophelia is the shining star of the ladies-in-waiting to the queen. Drawn to the charismatic prince Hamlet, they begin a secret love affair, but soon she will be drawn into a web of violent deeds and her happiness is shattered, and Ophelia must make a devastating choice.

The book and now the film place the female experience at the centre. Directed by Claire McCarthy, the film is headed up by Daisy Ridley, with Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, and Tom Felton in strong supporting roles. We are plunged into the historical world of medieval-era Denmark, and all the dark deception and romance that goes with it.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami

Known as “the other Murakami,” Ryū Murakami’s 1994 cult novel Piercing follows Kawashima Masayuki, a young father in Tokyo with an irresistible urge to stab his infant child with an ice pick. To divert his demons, he attempts to carry out his desire on an unsuspecting prostitute. Despite his meticulous planning, the evening doesn’t go his way and we the readers are plunged into a world of psychological horror. This film adaptation captures this horror along with the humour and the neo-noir tone. Director Nicolas Pesce takes on this icy, twisted and surreal fiction with great style, creating a feverish nightmare of mesmerizing horror.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot by John Callahan

This is a big year for Joaquin Phoenix. As we saw earlier in this article, there has been a lot of attention given to his performance in You Were Never Really Here, we turn now to a second film led by Phoenix in this year’s festival, this one based on the memoirs of John Callahan. Callahan was a quadriplegic as well as a noted cartoonist and artist, well remembered for his black humour in dealing with the topic of disability. He became quadriplegic following a motor accident which was the result of his alcoholism. The film follows his life after the accident, how he faces his new life in a wheelchair. But although he seems to be at his lowest ebb, through his caustic wit, he gains an unlikely group of AA friends, and finds that love and a full life are still within his grasp. Phoenix is accompanied on screen with a stellar cast including Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black.

My Abandonment by Peter Rock

Peter Rock’s psychological thriller is based on a true story. Told through the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl called Tom, and her father who live in the wilderness of Forest Park, a nature preserve in Portland. They have built up their home in a cave, complete with garden, library and makeshift septic system. As much as possible they stay away from society and off the grid but when they are discovered by happenstance, their lives are turned upside down as they encounter their conflicting desires for civilisation and wilderness.

The film adaptation, which is titled Leave No Trace, is being headed up by Debra Granik, the creative force behind the Academy Award nominated Winter’s Bone. Granik once again displays her talent for taking unknown actress and placing them at the forefront of her projects, to powerful effect, in this case with Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in the role of Tom.

This article was originally written for and published in January, 2018.

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