Aug 12, 2010 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
The film version of Pope Joan, the historical novel by Syracuse author Donna Woolfolk Cross, made its American debut Jan. 27 at a Washington, D.C. film festival and it will be screened this fall in Los Angeles and San Francisco, though it still seeks regular U.S. distribution.
Pope Joan is the story of Johanna von Ingelheim, a 9th century German-born woman who, according to legend, disguises herself as a man and ascends the ranks of the Vatican. Starring Johanna Wokalek, David Wenham and John Goodman, Pope Joan was a box-office hit last fall in Europe.
“The film is beautiful,” said Cross, a former writing instructor at Onondaga Community College. “It’s also brilliantly acted and directed. And despite false rumors, it’s in English.”
Both the book and the movie elicited blunt disapproval from Vatican officials who steadfastly deny the existence of a female pontiff.
Cross will show trailers from the movie at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 19, at Liverpool Public Library, 310 Tulip St., in Liverpool. The author’s talk is free; lpl.org; 457-0310.
Last week the novelist and screenwriter discussed the often frustrating process of turning a book into a movie.
Q: Your novel was published in 1996, so it took quite a while for the film version of Pope Joan to hit the screen. How many years, how many different scripts, how many different producers?
A:Ten years, four different production companies, five different directors, seven different scripts, two of which were mine. It’s crazy-making! For a while I thought the film would be posthumous — that is, I wouldn’t still be alive by the time it was finally released. Movie-making is not for the faint of heart!
Q: While shot primarily in Germany and Morocco, the film was made in English. Why haven’t distributors picked it up for U.S. release?
A: Sometimes it takes a long while for a movie made abroad to open in U.S. theaters. It’s only been nine months since the European premiere. The good news is that the movie is now being screened at U.S. and Canadian film festivals. This should create the “buzz” it needs to get a wide opening in the U.S.
Q: How did you personally find the film?
A: I love the film…The cinematography is spectacular, a perfect re-creation of the gritty reality of everyday life in the 9th century. Those who attend my talk on Aug. 19 will see what I mean when I screen the trailers.
Q: What about the casting?
A: Johanna Wokalek, who plays Joan, is brilliant — a stage-trained actress who turns in an understated but powerful performance, conveying great depths of emotion with her expressive eyes.
David Wenham, who plays Joan’s love interest, Gerold, was my personal choice for the role. David looks exactly as if he stepped off the pages of my novel and walked onto the movie set.
As for John Goodman — those who know him only from Roseanne and his comedy work have no idea what a talented dramatic actor he is. He’s wonderful in the part of Pope Sergius.
Q: You attended the premiere last October in Germany where your book was a huge best-seller. What’s it like to be a celebrity?
A: Walking the red carpet at the movie premiere in Berlin and attending all the parties and press conferences was a hoot — every bit as much fun as it looks when we watch such events on TV. I’m grateful for the kind fate that gave me and my family this wonderful experience, which more than makes up for the fact that I never got to attend a high-school prom!
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