Published: May 27, 2008 08:12 PM
Modified: May 28, 2008 10:31 AM
HILLSBOROUGH -- Local author Daniel Wallace saw his first novel "Big Fish" turned into a movie and watched the ending he had seen only in his imagination, of Edward Bloom turning into a fish, come to pass before his eyes.
"My feeling is that it's nice to be able to have it both ways," Wallace told Strange Horizons magazine in 2004. "I think one reason the movie was as good as (I think) it turned out to be is because [screenwriter John August] brought his own vision to it."
More recently, Wallace entrusted a work of his fiction to more novice filmmaking hands -- a pair of Duke University undergraduate classes who turned his unpublished short story "Graveyard Days" into a short movie.
He ended up with an iPod playing hip-hop in a graveyard and says that was a great choice to illustrate his protagonist Robby's attempt to "out-irritate" a wailing widow in the cemetery he had claimed as a place to pick up women.
"I was really interested to see what their take on it was going to be," Wallace said. "I have a really strong belief that the two mediums are completely different."
"Graveyard Days" is one of three student-produced shorts that will make up the Hillsborough Literary Association's Short Film Festival Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Burwell School Historic Site at 319 North Churton Street.
The films, based on writings by local authors Wallace, Lee Smith and Allan Gurganus, were created by students in author Michael Malone's screenwriting course and Elisabeth Benfey's film course.
Benfey said she wanted to make sure her students had strong material so they wouldn't get bogged down in tinkering with a weak narrative.
"It's a more foolproof way of really making sure the students understand the process of directing," Benfey said. "In this case, you've got wonderful stories and you can really focus on the filmaking."
Caroline Patterson, a 2008 Duke graduate, helped to write the screenplay and create costumes for the adaptation of Gurganus' "Nativity, Caucasian," the story of a young woman giving birth at a bridge game and the strong Southern women who rally to her side.
While a lot of film homework assignments tend toward Shakespeare or other classic pieces, Patterson said she enjoyed working with a good story that isn't quite so well known.
"It's fun to tell a story that someone hasn't heard before," she said. "You can have a favorite joke, but if everyone knows the punch line, it's not as much fun.
"When you read something, you sort of create these images of the story in your mind ... but when you turn something into a movie or a play, you're really setting out one set of images," she said. "If a work is not that well-known, then you have more freedom to put forth your vision of this work and there's a little less pressure because it's less likely ... that people will come into the theater with a certain image in their head and will be confused or disappointed."
Wallace said he loved how the students filmed Robby opening his front door for one woman or reaching out to touch another, only to find a different woman in the next shot.
"I thought that was a really sly and fun way to denote the passage of time and the number of women that he went out with," Wallace said.
Benfey said adapting literature is more like a marriage than a courtship, in that the viewer can either accept the filmmakers' vision or not: Take it or leave it. That said, she thought the three stories -- Smith's "Mrs. Darcy Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger" is the third -- had strong visual potential in their original short story forms.
She knew her students could capture the poignancy of a mourning Mrs. Darcy reaching out to some invisible spirit; of a young couple turning away from a relationship based on shared grief in a graveyard; of a pair of sisters teaming up to deliver a baby while panic rules the other onlookers, even a male dermatologist.
Benfey titled her seminar "A Sense of Place," asking, "What makes people belong with each other? How are we grounded in a corner of the world?"
Appropriately, "Graveyard Days" is set in Durham's Maplewood Cemetery, while "Nativity, Caucasian," was filmed at Malone's 150-year-old Burnside estate near downtown Hillsborough.
Admission is $12. For tickets call 732-7451 or visit www.burwellschool.org