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Russell Banks and Atom Egoyan Discuss "The Sweet Hereafter."

Novelist Russell Banks and Canadian Film Director Atom Egoyan discuss their new film “The Sweet Hereafter”. The film is adapted from Banks’ 1991 novel. It’s the story of how a small town deals with a tragic school bus crash. Banks has written 12 novels which include: “Affliction,” “Rule of the Bone,” “Searching for Survivors,” “The Book of Jamaica,” and “Continental Drift.” Egoyan is best known for “Exotica” a film that won the International Critics Prize for Best Film at the Cannes Film Festival. Other films include “The Adjuster,” “Calender,” “Speaking Parts,” “Family Viewing,” and “Next of Kin.”


Other segments from the episode on December 23, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross: December 23, 1997. Interview with Russell Banks and Atom Egoyan; Review of jazz albums; Obituary for Denise Levertov.


Date: DECEMBER 23, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122301np.217
Head: The Sweet Hereafter
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The new movie, "The Sweet Hereafter," is about the aftermath of a school bus crash that killed many of the children in a small town. As New York Times film critic Janet Maslin writes, the film offers a many-faceted moral inquiry: in the aftermath of such calamity, how does life go on? Maslin says for all the suffering it describes, this eloquent film also carries the exhilaration of crystal clear artistic vision.

My guests are Atom Egoyan and Russell Banks. Egoyan directed the film and wrote the screenplay. Egoyan also wrote and directed "Exotica." Russell Banks wrote the novel "The Sweet Hereafter" which the movie is based on. One of Banks' earlier novels, "Affliction," has been made into a not-yet-released film directed by Paul Schraeder (ph).

Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan -- welcome to FRESH AIR.



GROSS: Russell Banks, I'd like to start with you. You said you came up with the idea of The Sweet Hereafter after reading about a school bus accident I believe in a small Texas town?

BANKS: That's right.

GROSS: What did you see in that article that gave you the idea for the larger themes in your book? Like, what did you make of this article?

BANKS: Well, it wasn't an article about an accident so much as about the aftermath of the accident. And I think that's what engaged me -- engaged my imagination from the start. I think it was the New York Times sent a reporter down to this small Mexican-American town in South Texas a year after the accident and talked to the surviving families.

And this -- the town had more or less come apart for various reasons, but one of the reasons was that they had gotten all entangled in litigation and so on, and had lost their sense of community. And I think that -- that attracted me more than any other aspect of it because school bus accidents are, in a sense, I guess, endemic. I mean, they're all over the country, if you think about how many thousands and thousands of school buses are going out every morning, inevitably there's going to be an accident.

So, it wasn't the accident as such. It was the aftermath.

GROSS: Atom Egoyan, why did you want to make The Sweet Hereafter into a movie? What did you see in it that fit your ideas as a filmmaker?

EGOYAN: Well, I -- I think first and foremost, I thought it was a great piece of drama. I think that this idea of what constitutes the truth and how far one goes in pursuing truth is told to us at so many different levels.

There's that sense of what is the truth of a community? What -- what keeps a community together? What are the shared values? What happens when something challenges that, provokes that, like this accident does? Who do you trust to put the truth back together?

In the role of the litigation lawyer, Mitchell Stephens coming into the town, going from household to household saying that he has the truth or he can find out the truth, and then this remarkable story of a young woman who survives the accident who has her own history and has her own truth that she has to find out, and who uses the structure of the litigation process to turn the whole case around.

And by so doing giving herself -- empowering herself with her own truth. And it was just a complex moral story, and I couldn't get it out of my head.

GROSS: Now, the novel actually starts with the story of the school bus accident.

EGOYAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And Russell Banks, I'd like you to read a paragraph from that description. And in this chapter, the school bus driver -- who was driving at the time of the accident but survives -- is looking back on that moment when she skidded on the road.

And she's remembering that she saw something on the road -- she was some kind of blur that she really thought was a small animal, but she realizes now may have just been an optical illusion. But she decided to act as if it were a small animal just in case it was, and it was from turning the wheel and slamming on the brakes that she skidded off the road.

Russell Banks, would you pick it up from there?

BANKS: "For the rest of my life, I will remember that red/brown blur like a stain of dried blood standing against the road with a thin screen of blown snow suspended between it and me. The full weight of the vehicle and the 34 children in it bearing down on me like a wall of water. And I will remember the formal clarity of my mind, beyond thinking or choosing now, for I had made my choice as I wrenched the steering wheel to the right and slapped my foot against the brake pedal. And I wasn't the driver anymore. So I hunched my shoulders and ducked my head, as if the bus were a huge wave about to break over me.

"There was Bear Otto and the Lamston (ph) kids and the Walkers, the Hamiltons and the Prescotts, and the teenaged boys and girls from Bartlett Hill. And Risa and Wendell Walker's sad little boy Sean, and sweet Nicole Burnell, and all of the kids from the valley and the children from Wilmont Flats, and Billy Ansel's twins Jessica and Mason. The children of my town -- their wide-eyed faces and fragile bodies swirling and tumbling in a tangled mass as the bus went over and the sky tipped and veered away, and the ground lurched brutally forward."

GROSS: Now, Atom Egoyan, in the movie of The Sweet Hereafter, I want you to describe how you visually rendered that bus accident. There's no dialogue or voice-over in this scene, and it's -- it's actually a surprisingly quiet scene as the bus skids off the road. It's a pretty quiet skid, I guess in part because of the snow. Snow tends to make things quiet.

Describe how you decided to visually handle this?

EGOYAN: Well, it's funny. This whole notion of "depiction" is so crucial to me. There are couple of scenes in the film which depict catastrophe. And of course, the bus accident is one of them.

And for them to really have weight and bearing, it was important to ground them from the point of view of someone involved, and what they would have experienced. And very often in an accident scene in a film, what we see is an attempt by the filmmaker to reconstruct the violence of that moment through a series of cuts and through the montage to give you a sense of what that incident is about; how violent that incident is.

But what I was trying to create was what the experience of a parent watching this would have been. And of course in the book, Billy Ansel, the parent of two of the children on the bus, follows them every morning and waves at the kids, who are at the back. And he sees this happen. And to me, that was just almost unbearable -- what this man would have witnessed. And the helpless -- helplessness of what he saw or the helplessness of what he would have experienced as the bus went over.

So I shot it from his point of view. And what you see is the bus rolling across -- sliding across the frozen lake in the distance. And you see Billy in the foreground. And by showing it as something happening far away from him, you have a sense that he can't help and that he feels helpless.

And in that sense, the moment when it occurs -- you see the bus and it -- for a moment, it seems to have rested to a stop on the lake, and you think everything is OK. Then you hear the terrifying sound of the ice cracking, and the bus falling through. And then you see Billy running towards them, but knowing that it's far too late for him to do anything.

And that moment is then stored, because the tension of the scene is not broken by this barrage of angles and shots and explosive effects. The viewer has to hold it. And when it comes up later on, that this is what Billy saw, you can -- you can understand and feel what he would have experienced.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Russell Banks and Atom Egoyan. Atom Egoyan has just made the film adaptation of the Russell Banks' novel The Sweet Hereafter.

One of the kind of themes that holds together The Sweet Hereafter is the sense of after a tragic accident like this bus accident, there is the impulse to find a guilty party, punish them, and get some compensation for this terrible thing that happened. And this is what the lawyer who comes to town tells everybody he can do. He can -- he can find the guilty party. He can sue them. Everybody could get some money in damages.

But then the argue -- other argument is, well, some things are just an accident. There is no guilty party. This just happened and you -- you have to live with it. There's nothing you can do.

And I'm wondering -- this is a very compelling theme, I'm wondering how that theme resonates in each of your lives? If it connects to something particular in your lives? Russell Banks, can we start with you?

BANKS: Well, I suppose it does. I mean, the question of blame and causality is a central one in the book, as well as in the film. And it's certainly in my own personal life. I've been touched by that question -- more than touched by it -- occasionally driven by it; obsessed by it, maybe. Most specifically, and I should say this is the underlying inspiration for the novel -- I -- my youngest brother was killed in an accident, in a train accident, when he was 17. And -- and it was an inexplicable event. It was a mystery, finally.

And on two counts, I suppose, it had a deep impact on me. Well actually, it was 30 years ago now, but in one case -- one way it fixed in my mind and lasted those 30 years is -- is the way in which my mother responded to that. My mother's now in her 80s, and this event occurred over 30 years ago, but she still sees her life as bifurcated; as being in two parts -- before and after the accident. She never has recovered, really. Her time-line has never recovered.

So I saw that up close. I was a sibling and so it didn't have the same impact on me. And the other way I think it had a huge and lasting impact on me is -- is simply insofar as it forced me to live on with a mystery; and a mystery having to do with causality. And I think this is something that we, as Americans particularly, as extremely reluctant to do -- to live with a mystery; to live without an explanation.

GROSS: Was there ever a lawsuit in the case of your brother?

BANKS: Well, the opportunity for one was there, but no, there wasn't.

EGOYAN: Which is interesting as well. I mean, we've talked about this, Russell. I mean, it's interesting how -- how if the opportunity was there, maybe it was just a different time in American society...

BANKS: That's true.

EGOYAN: ... to -- American culture, where there wasn't the same type of expectation that would be an immediate lawsuit filed. And I think that's one of the -- one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that -- how in trying to convince one of the parents in particular to join him in this lawsuit, Mitchell Stephens, the lawyer, says, you know, it's not really for the money or to compensate you for the loss of your son, but it's to make sure that something like this will never happen again.

So not only is it -- this idea of fate and to what extent, you know, can something just happen, but also to make sure that something cannot just happen again; that did that -- by having -- by putting it through a legal process, you can thereby limit the potential for accidents to occur.

GROSS: Atom Egoyan, can I ask how these things connect to your life? In a direct way?

EGOYAN: Oh, I mean, it's difficult to respond after Russell's very direct personal response. I mean, to me I suppose there is an aspect of my background culturally which has to deal with this, and it's funny. It wasn't something I was aware of consciously when I did the adaptation of the book. But I think that as an Armenian, very much this idea of a catastrophe that befalls one's community, one's people, I mean, with the -- with the ideas of genocide of the Armenian people at the beginning of this century.

And this notion of what to do with that history. I mean, it hasn't really ever been acknowledged. It's something that sort of lurks and it's like why did it have to happen? What are the consequences? And how far do you go in pursuing truth? I mean, does one still try and look for answers at what, like now, 80 years after the fact? Or what am I saying -- 85 years after the fact? Do you try and get recognition from the people who perpetrated it?

I mean, all these issues are still very alive in my -- in my life. And it's funny, 'cause when we've shown the film, I mean there have been journalists who have seen the community as being a metaphor for Armenian culture.

But again, that wasn't something that was conscious as I was developing the project, but it's -- it may be one of the reasons why I find this such a moving story because I personally am of the conviction that -- that the responses that ultimately affect one's life are the ones that you arrive at individually; that a communal response is always secondary to what the individual is able to draw out of an incident.

GROSS: My guests are Russell Banks, who wrote the novel The Sweet Hereafter; and Atom Egoyan who wrote and directed the new film adaptation. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Russell Banks, who wrote the novel The Sweet Hereafter; and Atom Egoyan, who wrote and directed the new film adaptation.

There's a contrast in The Sweet Hereafter between the parents of the youngsters who were killed on the bus and the lawyer, who is also a parent. The children who were killed on the bus are, you know, they're young; they're helpless; they're totally innocent in the sense that all they were doing was sitting on this bus that happened to crash over the guard rail.

The lawyer, who is older than the parents of the children on the bus -- he has a daughter who's in her late teens or early 20s, but she is also lost to him. She's alive, but she's a drug addict and her only contact with him is to call him up and manipulate him to get more money for drugs. And before we talk about where this -- this part of the story comes from, I'd like you, Russell Banks, to read a couple of lines from the section in the novel The Sweet Hereafter in which the lawyer Stephens talks about this.

BANKS: "The people of Sam Dent (ph) are not unique. We've all lost our children. It's like all the children of America are dead to us. Just look at them, for God's sake: violent on the streets, comatose in the malls, narcotized in front of the TV. In my lifetime, something terrible happened that took our children away from us. I don't know if it was the Vietnam War or the sexual colonization of kids by industry or drugs or TV or divorce or what the hell it was. I don't know which are causes and which are effects."

"But the children are gone, that I know. So that trying to protect them is little more than an elaborate exercise in denial. Religious fanatics and super-patriots, they try to protect their kids by turning them into schizophrenics. Episcopalians and high church Jews gratefully abandon their kids to boarding schools, and divorce one another so they can laid with impunity. The middle class grabs what it can buy and passes it on like poisoned candy on Halloween.

"And meanwhile, the inner city blacks and poor whites in the boonies sell their souls with longing for what's killing everyone else's kids and wonder why their's are on crack."

"It's too late. They're gone. We're what's left."

GROSS: Atom Egoyan, I'd like you to talk about what you did with this paragraph and this idea in incorporating it into the screenplay.

EGOYAN: The real problem with this whole movie, this whole adaptation, was taking these first person narratives and finding opportunities where these characters could actually say this to somebody.

GROSS: Right.

EGOYAN: And in the book, they say it to the reader. They're talking to themselves and the book is very much structured like a series of four depositions, where the bus driver, the lawyer, the young survivor, and the father, Billy Ansel, speak their truths; tell their stories.

So in the passage we've just heard, Russell is able to -- to get right into Mitchell's psyche and to be able to have him express this tremendous sense of anger, rage, and disillusionment with his generation and the generation that he's raised.

Now, how to find some character in this town that Mitchell could say that to was practically impossible. There is a -- the character I invented in an airplane that Mitchell meets, who's the friend of -- or used to be the friend of his best daughter, who's now a drug addict. And he does -- he does speak to her quite candidly, but not that particular section. That particular section is reserved for a meeting that he has with Billy Ansel, who is the one father -- the one parent who will not be led to join Mitchell Stephens.

And in a final desperate plea, Mitchell says to this man who's lost both his kids in this accident, that he, too, has lost his daughter. But in a way, it's so audacious that Mitchell would try and use that as a lure, because what he's speaking about is something quite prosaic and quite -- you know, he can afford to -- he has the luxury of being able to -- to use language and to be able to use metaphor to -- and to use that to a man who has a very primal sense of loss and is trying to mourn something so directly is an affront. And it almost results in a violent, you know, physically violent moment between the two characters.

GROSS: Well let's hear your adaptation of the passage that we just heard Russell Banks read.

EGOYAN: Yeah, and this is taking place outside the hulk of the bus, so we have the father coming to the bus and just really using it as a shrine; looking at this -- this carcass which destroyed his two young kids. And then Mitchell Stevens, the lawyer, approaches him in the middle of the night and tells him this.

GROSS: And we'll hear as the lawyer, Ian Holm, who gives a fantastic performance in The Sweet Hereafter.

EGOYAN: Oh, I think it's a remarkable moment.



IAN HOLM, ACTOR, AS MITCHELL STEPHENS: Several people in the town have agreed to let me represent them in a negligence suit. Now, your case as an individual will be stronger if I'm allowed to represent you together as a group.


HOLM: Walkers have agreed; the Ottos have agreed; the Nicole Burnell's parents. It's important that we initiate proceedings right away. Things get covered up. People lie. That's why we must begin our investigation quickly, before the evidence disappears. That's what I'm doing out here.

GREENWOOD: Listen, I know Risa and Wendell Walker. They wouldn't hire a god-damned lawyer. The Ottos? They wouldn't deal with you. We're not country bumpkins you can put the big city hustle on.

HOLM: You're angry, Mr. Ansel, and you owe it to yourself to feel that way. All I'm saying is: let me direct your rage.


It's my daughter. Or it may be the police to tell me they found her dead. She's a drug addict.

GREENWOOD: Why are you telling me this?

HOLM: Why am I telling you this, Mr. Ansel? I'm -- because we've all lost our children. They're dead to us. They're killing each other in the streets. They wander comatose at shopping malls.


Something terrible has happened that's taken our children away.


It's too late. They're gone.


GROSS: Ian Holm and Bruce Greenwood in a scene from the new movie The Sweet Hereafter. Atom Egoyan wrote and directed the film. Russell Banks wrote the novel it's based on. Egoyan and Banks will be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Russell Banks and Atom Egoyan. Egoyan wrote and directed the new movie The Sweet Hereafter. Banks wrote the novel it's based on. The story is about the aftermath of a school bus crash that killed many of the children in a small town.

That's interesting -- Atom Egoyan, you're 20 years younger than Russell Banks and you have I think one young child?


GROSS: And Russell Banks, your child is an adult already.

BANKS: I have four -- I actually have four daughters; four grown daughters.

GROSS: Oh, OK. And they're all grown, so, so...

BANKS: Yeah, I thank -- thank God, yes.


GROSS: So Atom Egoyan, you're experiencing the story in a way more from the point of view of the parents who lost their young children on the school bus at that really kind of vulnerable age. I'm wondering if you feel like you both -- kind of approaching -- if approaching the story at different stages in your life affects how you read or viscerally respond to the story?

EGOYAN: Well, it's -- again, I think what I was most drawn by was the character of Nicole. Now, even though in the film adaptation, Mitchell Stephens becomes the lead character, the defining action, for me, is not so much the bus crash, but rather what Nicole does in the deposition to turn the case around.

GROSS: You should describe who Nicole is, first.

EGOYAN: Nicole is the young woman who survives the crash. She is one of the passengers on her way to school that morning. And she has, you know, a dark sort of chapter in her own background, her history, which is a secret to the community and which is causing her great anguish. And when the deposition comes about, she finds a way of being able to -- to deal with that in a very, very courageous way, I think.

So to me, there's a -- you know, the reason why I made the film is that there's a tremendous sense of redemption and hope and grace through the actions of this survivor. And so as a parent, I mean, I can look at the action of a child who's able to do that and find great hope. I mean, as long as, you know, one is able to take that sort of action, there is -- there is hope for our children, even in the light of a central character who says we've lost our children.

I suppose that maybe that's something that I certainly need to believe, as a new parent. I mean, I can't -- I can't imagine being a parent and having such a dismal view of what rearing a child may result in.

GROSS: Atom Egoyan, would you talk a bit about directing Ian Holm and what -- what you thought about his line readings of lines that Russell Banks wrote, lines that you wrote, lines that you changed from Russell Banks' original. He -- his spacing between words as he...


GROSS: ... is so perfect without being overdone and stagy.

EGOYAN: No. Well, I think Ian Holm is certainly one of the finest actors working in the English language. He is a theater legend. He is very aware of using language to insinuate himself into someone else's experience, while being able to talk of his own experience.

So you have these passages in the film where he goes off on a story of -- a remembrance of a time in his own life. But the whole time he's telling this very, very compelling story, he's also aware of the effect that this story is having on the listener, and how he's able to then open up the listener so that he may get something from them.

So, I needed to have an extraordinary actor who'd be able to understand what the power of language was. And also who'd be able to -- to teach me, I think, and I think, you know, Russell and I are just -- we're astonished by his ability to -- to not only -- I mean, in this case, to appropriate and to find a tempo in a dialect that's not his.

BANKS: He actually educated me with regard to the novel. I mean, I learned about the novel and learned some things about myself as well, or as a result, I think. That story you mentioned that he tells on the plane about the -- the time when his little girl, or when Zoe was a little girl and got stung by spiders and they had to race across to the hospital and he had to be prepared to perform an emergency tracheotomy and so forth.

He tells that story in a way which is designed to -- first of all, it's a horrible story. It was a terrible experience for him. But he's also using it to -- to seduce the person sitting next to him -- the young woman who's listening.

And one doesn't know this, of course -- no one but me, perhaps, and members of my family know -- but that actually did happen to me and to my youngest daughter many years ago. It's probably the only totally autobiographical element in the novel.

And I told -- it's a Banks family story; one I've told many times over the years. And watching Ian deliver it, I realized that I've totally seduced people, too. It was a terrible experience, but I used that story, I think the way probably all storytellers eventually use the stories from their past.

GROSS: And you've used it how? To show what a...

BANKS: Well.

GROSS: ... what a good person you are? To show...

BANKS: Probably, yeah, what a good dad I am.


What a courageous guy I am.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BANKS: Probably those same reasons Ian Holm is telling the story to that young woman next to him. It's a good story, too. I mean, you know, it has drama and it leads up to a point where, which is finally, you know, terribly anticlimactic. She -- where the young woman says: "and what happened?" And he says: "oh, nothing."


It's the storytelling that's important.

GROSS: Russell Banks, how much did you work on the screenplay or how much were you actually on the set during the making of the movie?

BANKS: I didn't actually work on the screenplay. It's entirely Atom's. I guess you could say I consult -- consulted, or I was consulted at every stage of the screenplay and -- to the point where at one point Atom came down to my house and spent the weekend and we went over the script line by line -- a great event for me.

And then I was present on the set for a few days -- had a little cameo -- my one moment on the silver screen -- although my best parts were left on the cutting room floor.

GROSS: Oh yeah, that's what they all say.


BANKS: And sort of hovered around over Atom's shoulder during some of the editing and so forth. I...

GROSS: But wasn't...

BANKS: ... it was all informal and...

EGOYAN: Yeah, and I think it was incredibly generous on Russell's behalf. I mean, for me, since it was the first adaptation and since it was a book that I admired so -- so profoundly, I don't think I would have been able to proceed if I didn't have Russell's blessing in some way. You know, I think in many cases during the adaptation process, the producers or the writers and the directors -- they try and get the author out of the way as soon as possible. And I just couldn't imagine working that way.

Now, I also had the luxury of being in this case the producer and the director as well, so I wasn't threatened. And Russell's contributions were just so extraordinarily important. I mean, I would not -- I needed his blessing, I suppose, and he was always ready to give it and also to -- to help me. It was a first time for me.

It was -- and I wanted to make sure that -- there were major changes and I needed to have somebody respond to that who was -- who -- I just felt from the very beginning, I suppose, that this relationship was really going to be very different from the classic Hollywood, you know, you know, take the money and run type situation. It was really about...

BANKS: Well, it helped a lot, too, that -- that from the very beginning, I was really interested and -- I was really interested and engaged by your films. So, I was excited about -- at the prospect of seeing you use this material and make a film from it. So as -- just as a fan -- a fan of films generally and of your work particularly.

So it was a very exciting kind of prospect for me, when you brought me into it.

GROSS: Atom Egoyan directed the new movie The Sweet Hereafter and wrote the screenplay. Russell Banks wrote the novel the film is based on.

At this point in our conversation, our studio time with Atom Egoyan ran out, so we had to wrap up that end of the conversation. But Russell Banks was able to stay on the phone for a few more minutes, so our conversation will continue after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Russell Banks. His novel, The Sweet Hereafter, has been adapted into a new movie.

Well Russell Banks, was there ever a point in the making of the movie The Sweet Hereafter where you felt like saying to Atom Egoyan: "hey, about those changes you're making? This is my story, buddy."


BANKS: Never quite, although there were a couple of times when I -- or one in particular where I questioned his judgment. And that was his decision to introduce the Pied Piper poem and to have it read both as voice-over and directly in the -- in the story. It seemed at the time when he -- he called me up one night and talked to me about it and said "what do you think?" And I thought, eh, it sounds a little too literary to me.

GROSS: Well, tell me what he was proposing, for our listeners who haven't seen the movie?

BANKS: He was proposing that to introduce the poem The Pied Piper, Robert Browning's wonderful long strange poem, which we usually read as a children's poem, but which in fact has some very dark implications -- and he wanted to use this as a kind of unifying device that would run through the entire film; that would in some way provide a kind of ritual reenactment of the story or imagistic reenactment of the story -- and clarify for the viewer somewhat the way at the end of the novel, the demolition derby scene is a ritualization for the community of what's happened.

So I thought it was at first just too literary an idea, and a device. And as it turned out, I think I was wrong. We talked about it and I began to think about it. And then when I saw it in the script, 'cause he sent me another draft of the script with it in it -- and then I saw how he had integrated it into the story, and actually I later came to -- once I saw it in the film -- to think it was brilliantly done.

It's ironic in a way because it's -- the most cinematic aspect of the novel, I think, is the final scene of the demolition derby, which he had to let go of because if he had put that into the film, it would have been too much in your face; just too broad. There would be no way to control the tone the way you can in fiction.

And what he did instead was -- was put it to -- something into the film which is extremely literary, but if I had used that in the novel, it would have been, again, too literary; too much in your face.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BANKS: It -- but it worked very well, I think, in the film.

GROSS: The Sweet Hereafter isn't your first experience with film adaptation; with having one of your stories adapted into a film. Have all your experiences been as good as this?

BANKS: In one other case, a film was made this year -- it's just about to come out. Paul Schraeder made a film of my novel "Affliction." And it was very similar in many ways, perhaps because both filmmakers, Schraeder and Egoyan, are auteur-style-type filmmakers and they were both independently produced. And in both cases, I became friends with the director and involved in the actual production to some degree.

So there -- it was very friendly and easy and exciting to me. But in other cases, no -- it hasn't been quite that satisfying. I've had novels optioned off and on, and watched them fall through the cracks or end up in development purgatory at least, if not development hell.

GROSS: I understand you're writing a screenplay yourself now -- an adaptation of your novel "Continental Drift"?

BANKS: Right, yes. I'm -- I have written it. I'm now revising it and I'm working with a couple of people who are partners with me -- Willem Dafoe and Linda Reisman (ph), who produced Affliction for Paul Schraeder and Eric Berg (ph) who co-produced that. So yeah, I'm involved in the filmmaking business now.

GROSS: Well, I wish you good luck, and I really want to thank you very much for talking with us.

BANKS: Well, thank you.

GROSS: Russell Banks' novel The Sweet Hereafter has been adapted into a new movie.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Russell Banks; Atom Egoyan
High: Novelist Russell Banks and Canadian Film Director Atom Egoyan discuss their new film "The Sweet Hereafter." The film is adapted from Banks' 1991 novel. Its the story of how a small town deals with a tragic school bus crash. Russell Banks has written 12 novels which include: "Affliction," "Rule of the Bone," "Searching for Survivors," "The Book of Jamaica," and "Continental Drift." Atom Egoyan is best known for "Exotica," a film that won the International Critics Prize for Best Film at the Cannes Film Festival. Other films include "The Adjuster," "Calender," "Speaking Parts," "Family Viewing," and "Next of Kin."
Spec: Media; Disasters; Movie Industry; Books; Authors; The Sweet Hereafter
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Sweet Hereafter
Date: DECEMBER 23, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122302np.217
Head: Blue Note Releases
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We asked jazz critic Kevin Whitehead to review some recent CD box sets. Kevin says jazz fans like the limited edition box sets from the mail-order house Mosaic Records because they put out great, if not widely known, music -- lavishly packaged in authoritative editions.

Now that many of the those limited editions have gone out of print, Blue Note has been turning out some scaled-down versions of the same. Kevin says they're worth keeping in mind if you're still shopping for holiday gifts for jazz fans.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: If you're looking for something lively, but not weird to give a jazz fan this season, you might consider the two CD set "Complete Quartets of Grant Green, with Sonny Clark." Green is a splendid guitar player whose spiky attacks sparked organ group sessions for a couple of decades. On these early '60s recordings, he teams up with the hard-bop pianist Sonny Clark, who like Green is not as well known as he should be.

With piano behind him, the guitarist solos at length like a horn player. But even when Green plays jazz standards, his sound is deep in the blues. This is Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You."


Guitarist Grant Green, with Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey on drums. One reason Green sounds so good is that bright tone he gets -- closer to urban blues than the muffled sound many jazz guitarists prefer. It helps explain why even non-jazz fan guitar players like him.

On piano, Sonny Clark has the same sort of fluid phrasing and technique, and his own heavy blues feel.


Another good Blue Note knock-off of an old Mosaic box is a three-CD set of early '50s sides by Stan Getz -- the complete "Roost" (ph) recordings. Later, the saxophonist was famed for his ballads. Back then, he was known for playing whippet-fast (ph) with great timing. Be advised, though, the sound quality is not so good.

One must-have item for fans of jazz piano or great jazz tunes is "The Complete Herbie Nichols" on Blue Note, on three CDs. Today, I spare loyal listeners my usual sermon on this neglected giant -- enough to note these trio sides with either Max Roach or Art Blakey on drums are Nichols' finest work and they're usually unavailable and it's hard to imagine any jazz fan not liking his witty solos or catchy tunes like "The Gig." Get this box, and you and yours will be grateful for a lifetime.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is currently living in Amsterdam, where he researched his forthcoming book on Dutch jazz.

Coming up, we remember poet Denise Levertov. This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Kevin Whitehead, Amsterdam; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead reviews some CD re-issues by Blue Note Records. He recommends Complete Quartets of Grant Green with Sonny Clark, The Complete Roost Recordings, and The Complete Herbie Nichols.
Spec: Music Industry; Blue Note Records
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Blue Note Releases
Date: DECEMBER 23, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122301np.217
Head: Denise Levertov Obit
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Poet Denise Levertov died Saturday of complications from lymphoma. She was 74. Levertov reached her largest audience during the war in Vietnam, when she read at demonstrations. She was a founder of the group Writers and Artists Protest Against the War in Vietnam.

Her friend and fellow poet Robert Creeley was quoted in today's New York Times saying Levertov "was a remarkable and transforming poet for all of us. She always had a vivid emotional response, and also a completely dedicated sense of political and social need."

Levertov is survived by her son Nikolai (ph). When I spoke with Denise Levertov in 1987, she read a poem about her fear that she would outlive her son, who had been very ill.

DENISE LEVERTOV, POET: This poem was -- was begun when my son was very, very ill. It was finished quite a long time after he did recover. And it has sections which are just marked off by a little sort of dot.

During a Son's Dangerous Illness:

You could die before me
I've known it always
The dreaded worst
Unnatural, but possible
In the play of matter
Matter and growth and fate

My sister Philippa died
Twelve years before I was born
The perfect, laughing first-born
A gift to be cherished
As my orphaned mother had not been cherished
Suddenly, death -- a baby cold and still

Parent, child
Death ignores protocol
A sweep of its cape brushes this one or that one
At random, into the dust
It was not even looking
What becomes of the past if the future snaps off, brittle?
The present left as a jagged edge
Opening on nothing

Grief for the menaced world
Lost rivers, poisoned lakes
All creatures, perhaps, to be fireblasted
Off the whirling cinder we loved
But not enough

The grief I'd know if I lived into your unthinkable death
Is a splinter of that self-same grief
Infinitely smaller, but the same in kind
One, stretching the mind's fibers to touch
Eternal nothingness
The other tasting in fear the desolation of survival

GROSS: You wrote that poem after your son faced a terrible illness.

LEVERTOV: He had had brain surgery, yes.

GROSS: Did you think about things like that during the war in Vietnam, too -- about, you know, mothers whose sons were possibly going to be killed in a war; who would like you were fearing possibly outlive their child, which is one of the most terrifying things.

LEVERTOV: Awful things to think of, isn't it? Well, I suppose I must have thought of that along with other things. I don't think I thought of it in that particularly outstanding way, though. When I went to Vietnam in 1972 and visited a number of hospitals, I did see many, many injured children -- children whose feet had been blown off by American fragmentation bombs, anti-personnel weapons.

And I think that at that time I perhaps was more concerned about the continuing life of people that badly damaged. And I remember seeing a mother sitting besides her child's bedside, and the child was just sort of vegetable-ized, you know. I think that that's worse than death.

GROSS: One thing I'm sure was really exciting for poets like yourself during the war was that there was an audience for the poems. I mean, poets were reading at readings -- I mean, poets were reading at demonstrations.

LEVERTOV: At demonstrations, yes.

GROSS: Poets were expressing -- were finding the words to express and to dramatize the ideas that so many people were sharing, and we go through so many periods in America where poets are totally marginalized and unlistened to.

LEVERTOV: Well, one of the things that was moving to me at that time that I felt very good about was letters that I would get from people who were draft resisters; who read poems of mine in prison and passed them around to each other. Or sometimes people who, you know, just were active in the peace movement and wrote and said that they always put some poems of mine in their backpack when they went off to a demonstration or a civil disobedience action.

I felt very good about that. And I think that if that isn't happening now, it is because there is so much apathy. It's horrible, actually, to read at a demonstration, you know, it's like...

GROSS: Well, what...

LEVERTOV: ... well, it's like trying to play chamber music in a stadium. It's a completely unsuitable place for poetry, really. One has to kind of bawl it out of a loudspeaker...

GROSS: Oh sure, right.

LEVERTOV: ... system, and you -- and you're reading to a...

GROSS: To a mob.

LEVERTOV: ... a moving audience. I mean, they're -- when I go to demonstrations, I don't listen very carefully to the speeches. I mill around and look for my friends and see how many people are there and, you know, I don't think that one listens to speeches very carefully at demonstrations. There have to be speeches, and there have to perhaps even be poems. And if I'm asked, I always comply because, you know, if that's what's wanted, I will do it. But it really is a horrible experience to read at a huge demonstration.

GROSS: Denise Levertov recorded in 1987. Let's hear one more poem from her FRESH AIR interview.

LEVERTOV: "Keeping Track"

Between chores
Hulling strawberries, answering letters
Or between poems
Returning to the mirror to see if I'm there

GROSS: Poet Denise Levertov died Saturday at the age of 74.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Denise Levertov
High: We remember poet and author Denise Levertov who died on Saturday at the age of 74. Her publisher says the cause was complications from lymphoma.
Spec: Deaths; Poets; Denise Levertov
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Denise Levertov Obit
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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