More than 17 years after Kitimat author Eden Robinson’s first novel Monkey Beach hit the shelves, the book is being adapted to the big screen.
This summer and fall, filming crews will be shooting the movie in Kitimat and Kitamaat Village in the northwest of B.C., where the award-winning novel is set.
“That would be incredible. Having the opportunity for our youth and people in the community to work on a film about their territory in their territory would be amazing,” Eden Robinson said of filming in Kitimat.
“It very important to actually have the places that are in the book and in our history appear on screen. Indigenous people aren’t on television or screens a lot yet. The Haisla have been basically invisible, except for a couple of documentaries. I think it would be a very pivotal moment.”
When the option for film rights was being sold — more than a decade ago — Robinson chose documentary film director Loretta Todd. It will be Todd’s first feature.
“Of all the people who tried to option the novel, I loved her approach,” Robinson said. “I loved her sensitivity to the material and her embrace of the culture and her willingness to come up to Kitimat and speak to people.”
Of course, Todd hired Robinson to adapt Monkey Beach into a screenplay. After three years of writing, however, Robinson said it was too frustrating. She had a 300-page screenplay by the time she decided to give up.
“I fired myself,” Robinson said with a booming laugh.
Over the next 10 years, Todd made sure Robinson was still included in the screenplay process, even if she wasn’t writing it herself. Robinson and her dad would read each version together.
“There has been a lot of shift in the adaptation from the novel to the screenplay, but having banged my head against it for so long, I can see why.”
Fans of Monkey Beach will notice that the movie has brought the story from the ’80s to the present day. Robinson said this was to make it easier to shoot in Kitimat. The movie will have the same back-and-forth flow through time it became known for, although condensed for screentime.
Working in the world of Monkey Beach again is like being in a timewarp, Robinson said. Now in her fifties — and with bestsellers like Son of a Trickster now penned — the author said it reminds her of the work that went into writing it. The book’s story, which follows a woman struggling with the disappearance of her younger brother while experiencing dreams of the titular Monkey Beach, still resonates with readers today.
In the movie, Robinson hopes people will “see an ordinary family dealing with an extraordinary circumstance. The story’s more about the power of family, community and love.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the Haisla people on screen,” Robinson said. “The people who are acting in it, the people who are the extras, the people who are working in the background — just to see my community have a very different kind of spotlight.”