Katori Hall // Hurt Village


Shadow and Act scooped playwright Katori Hall's feature film directorial debut--Hurt Village, an adaptation of her play about life and change in a Memphis housing project that she workshopped at Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2011.

I'm always a bit nervous about playwrights turned screenwriters. Their first films are usually a disaster, although to be fair learning something new always takes trial and error. As someone who writes--books and screenplays--as well as directs, I can attest that switching between forms is really challenging. Being one thing is easy. Being a hyphen--like a writer-dancer-director--can be tricky. The hardest part is turning your senses on and off.

Films are about what you see and hear; plays are more or less about what people say and how they interact with each other; while books are about all the five senses--or six, if you like--making it the hardest form. I once heard Nervous Conditions author Tsitsi Dangarembga say, in an interview, that she had stopped writing prose to figure out how to properly make films:
They were just completely different. The skills I had learned for prose didn’t work in film. Those telling details, they’re completely different. Or the fact of these inner monologues in which you can write a whole book. Whereas prose is teasing out, film is stripping down, concentrating and compacting. I found I could not learn the one while doing the other. So it was a big struggle, actually. It took me years.
I hear her, but am too stubborn to give anything up.

Perhaps it is dancing that helps the most. I have learned to be at home and present in my body to access the senses I need to move, to think, to write, to direct. I've been told that my prose is very visual, and I find that after the first draft I often have to go back and add in the other senses plus intuition, which has no place in a film or play. I have sketched out a couple of plays over the years, but none ever materialized. I find the form a bit too literal. In a film, there is always some distance between what is said and what is felt--what directors call the subtext. Plays tend to minimize that distance, making them feel sightly more predictable. And the actors are often shouting at each other, which makes no sense if they're sitting at a kitchen table.

At any rate, I'm excited to see how the Hurt Village film turns out since everything Katori does turns to gold. A few years ago, I saw her play Hoodoo Love and became an instant fan. It was the first time I'd ever seen a play with a rape scene and her fearlessness stuck with me. --AL.

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