From Page to Screen: Professor Dews's Story Adapted into Short Film

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Carlos Dews has been is a member of John Cabot University’s faculty since 2008. He is Director of the JCU Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation.  Professor Dews has written, edited and published a number of works in both fiction and non-fiction, including Blood of the Lamb (Penguin / Blue Rider Books 2013) and Skin of the Wolf, thrillers co-authored with S. J. Rozan, Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (University of Wisconsin 1999), and The Complete Novels of Carson McCullers (Library of America 2001). His short story “Recoleta,” was adapted into the short film “Verano,” which will be screened on Wednesday, January 25 at 7 PM in the Aula Magna Regina.

Professor Dews

English Professor Carlos Dews

What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe that the best teaching is done when the professor exhibits infectious enthusiasm for the subject being taught and insists on excellence from students.  This combination has worked well for me during my 25 years of university teaching.

What is the advantage of studying literature in this day and age?
Nothing proves a better counterbalance to the ubiquitous nature of technology in our lives than the necessarily slow and meditative practice of studying literature.  Reading works of literature helps students consider texts word by word, and sentence by sentence.  And this practice in close reading helps students to concentrate in other aspects of their lives as well.  In short, and I am not the first person to say this, literature teaches students how to be humane.

Let’s talk about “Verano.” Why did you choose to adapt the story to a screenplay? Can you tell us more about the project?
Since I wrote “Recoleta,” the story on which the short film “Verano” is based, I have dreamed about seeing it adapted as a film. I wrote the story while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but the film is set in Rome so some changes were necessary. Beyond the changes due to setting, the biggest challenge in adapting the story for the screen was capturing the non-visual aspects of the original in the purely visual medium of film. Obviously, in condensing a much longer short story into a very short film, without any dialogue, much of the detail of the story had to be sacrificed.

Allen Ginsberg is famous for saying that sometimes you have to kills your darlings, meaning that you have to remove something that you like very much from a piece of writing.  I felt that way about one thing that didn’t, completely understandably, make it into the film, for logistical reasons.  In the original short story of “Recoleta” the character of Mirta opens the coffin of Mr. de Alba each week to touch the handkerchief he is wearing, because it has great significance for her.  With the budget we had and the time constraints of filming, we weren’t able to include this dark moment in the film.  It is a darling I was willing to kill.  But I don’t think the film suffered from this omission.

“Verano” was directed by JCU alumnus Alessandro Ceschi, and photographed by another JCU alumnus, Nikolai Berger. How did you come to collaborate?
I chose Alessandro Ceschi to direct because I had seen his first short film, “Sally Abroad,” a project he had undertaken when he was a student at JCU.  I was impressed with his work and thought he would be ideal to work with in adapting “Recoleta” into a short film. I had also known Nikolai Berger when he was a student at JCU, but I can’t take credit for bringing him onto the project.  Alessandro asked Nikolai to work as the Director of Photography for the project.

What are your future projects?
I just finished work as the editor of the final volume in the two-volume set of the Collected Works of Carson McCullers that will be published this month by the Library of America.  My next major project is a collection of Carson McCullers’s letters.  I am also at work, with a friend, on a feature-length screenplay for a film set in Paris during World War II.