As judge on the Betty Roland Scriptwriting Panel, I am pleased to announce that; last night, in the spectacular reading room of the Mitchell Library, Louise Fox won the Betty Roland Scriptwriting Award and $30,000 in prize money for her adaptation of DEAD EUROPE. Continuing reading for my comments on this year’s winner:
Betty Roland Scriptwriting Prize 2013
THE WINNER: DEAD EUROPE (See-saw Films)
Labeled as ‘un-adaptable’ when first published, Louise Fox has done a masterful job distilling the essence of Christos Tsiolkas’ long and complex third novel, DEAD EUROPE into a disturbingly compelling screenplay. By condensing two separate narratives, covering two time frames into a single period and excising most of the explicit supernatural elements contained in the book, Louise has succeeded in creating a haunting and harrowing tale of an unsuspecting, Greek Australian on a collision course with the past and the revelation his family has been cursed for the hateful murder of a Jewish boy left in their care during the war. In hiding the past from the central protagonist and the viewer/reader (something the reader of the book knows upfront) in a shadowy underworld of drug addicts, pimps, people smugglers and prostitutes as the protagonist traverses modern-day Europe in search for answers, Louise infuses her screenplay with a creeping dread that is deeply unsettling. When the full horror of the past is revealed it delivers such a sickening punch that it leaves the reader/viewer reeling.
More than a mystery, however, DEAD EUROPE has an ambition and boldness of reach that is ground breaking for Australian cinema. By paralleling the horrific plight of Jews during World War II with the exploitation of Europe’s refugees today, the screenplay takes a timely look at how the echoes of the continent’s brutal past still shape its troubled present, leaving the reader/viewer with a searing, uncomfortable and indelible portrait of a soulless and decaying continent, sick at its core and lost to the future.
It is this indelible portrait that earns sets Louise script apart. A film adaptation is not just the book in pictures, it is the creation of a totally new work, relying on visuals and action as opposed to figurative language and inner thoughts, that has to stand on its own in a new medium. That Louise has created a compelling, trance-like, psychologically thrilling screenplay from Tsiolkas’ novel, that is still faithful to the ‘spirit’ of the book, yet commanding in its own right is a testament not only to her vision and deep understanding of form but her profound connection to the unsettling horror and wonder of what it is to be human.
The winners of the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced at a ceremony held at the State Library of NSW on Sunday 19 May 2013, on the eve of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. A total of $305,000 in prize money, including sponsored awards, was awarded across 12 prizes.