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Gitanjali Kapila Talks About Adaptation

January 4, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally appeared on the site 12/01/2010

Stephanie Cristello

Gitanjali Kapila sat down with DIY to spill the hardships of adaptation, an issue for most filmmakers. Kapila, a Chicago-based filmmaker, completed her graduate degree in the film program at Columbia University, with an emphasis in writing/directing, and now teaches at Columbia College Chicago. One of her recent accomplishments, an experimental narrative short Weaning, was written, directed and co-produced during Kapila’s brief stay in Denmark. This project, which was especially adapted for an international audience, was funded by a grant from the Danish Film Institute, and has been shown in International Film Festivals, earning its fair share of awards. In this short especially, Kapila seems to have been able to breach the gap between narrative and experimental film. With very little dialogue and a constant reference to dream-states and a fragmentary past, she outlines the psychological battle of a mother isolated by her child’s rejection, of a mother being weaned by its own offspring.

Gitanjali Kapila's Weaning

This reversal is skillfully done without much interruption from the characters themselves; our window into this woman’s life is both intimate and intrusive at the same time. As we gain access to her thoughts, things become broken, the narrative shattered.

Kapila’s piecing of it together relies strongly on the adaptation of her script, which in many ways is simply the translation of a written work to a film. While in most cases this is done through the translation of an outside text, such as those films that are “based-on-a-novel-by”, Kapila talks about the process of changing her written script to the screen; the struggles, the slippery transfer of language into gesture, and the importance of interpretation from a script to a screen.

“People talk about adaptation all the time, this idea of progression and translation and how things move from one thing to the next. The thing is, it’s not evolution at all, which is essentially the challenge. One of the really big issues in adaptation, which is what you’re required to do as a filmmaker, is to communicate human experience, which we so often talk about in terms of abstraction. To take those abstract, internal, psychological distortions of our actions (and who your character is, and what their motivations are) and translate that into something natural and believable that can be filmed. If I was asked to distil what screenwriting was about, I would say that’s it.

This particular project, Weaning, needed to be in Danish for the grant, so I worked very closely in the adaptation of my script, figuring out what each frame was going to consist of in terms of its image or movement. Each medium is good for a certain thing. Storyboards are good for images- for those interventions that you need to make in order to plan things out.

For the film, I was working with memory, and how this character is trying to piece together this event, this sad event, which she is having trouble coming to terms with. And the question is: how do you even begin to interpret that? How do you adapt it- that broken narrative- for the screen?

I guess the way that it works (in this early stage of translation) is that any given action has not yet been informed by a character decision. As the process goes, you are literally describing it for the characters, and building the actions so that they make sense, so that they are understandable. The screen really has no knowledge of itself; your job is to build the relationship between the story and the film. Let’s say your character picks up a cup of coffee: so what? They picked up a cup of coffee. If there’s no surrounding, the gesture is meaningless. There is never any meaning in a gesture unless it is created in context.”

Context – I think- is the main thing here, which is likely the only way that Kapila is able to walk the fine line between narrative and experimental structures. Weaning exhibits this type of deviation from the norm while still in keeping with its narrative framework. The adaptation from her script into film becomes transformed into a way that the visual language is able to fill in the blanks. As a viewer, we are not being told a story, but shown one; not only is this a refreshing spin on the removal of the filmmaker herself, but it cleverly includes us in the weaning process as well.


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