The book or its screen adaptation? SIBF 2021 stirs up
debate in lively discussion
Top storytellers from Saudi Arabia and Spain decode the evolution of screenwriting at a panel discussion at 40th Sharjah International Book Fair
Sharjah, November 6, 2021
Was Mario Puzo – who wrote the iconic The Godfather in the 1960’s – more impactful as a novelist or as a screenwriter? Was the Nobel Prize winning Naguib Mahfouz – who published 35 novels, over 350 short stories and 26 movie scripts – a better author or a superior movie writer? These questions set the tone for a fascinating discussion on ‘Screenwriting’ at the 40thSharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) at Expo Centre Sharjah.
Visitors to SIBF 2021 gained rich insights into the craft of screenwriting at a lively panel discussion led by Dr. Hasan Al-Ni’mi, a Saudi storyteller, academic and critic, and Gabi Martínez, Spanish travel writer and journalist. The session was moderated by media personality Dr. Lamya Tawfik.
“In the past, there was little room for screen writers to experiment but today, the cinema market is huge, and possibilities abound for writers,” said Martinez, as he explained how screenwriting has evolved over the years to become more nuanced yet far-reaching in its appeal and scope, especially in the age of OTTs. “Stories by many authors that were once considered marginal have wider recognition now because of how they have been reproduced for the screen.”
Describing what sets writing for novels and the screen apart, Martínez, who became a screenwriter by ‘accident’, said: “It’s like playing an 11-a-side football versus a 5-a-side futsal; both require different qualities. Great screenwriters are born for it because they understand the language of audio-visuals; they can see scenes in a very dynamic manner, and they know how to collaborate with directors and actors.”
Dr. Al-Ni’mi, who spent years analysing the works of Mahfouz – Arab world’s first literary Nobel laureate, pointed out the importance of understanding the personality of the authors to know how they wrote what they wrote.
He said: “A screenwriter will use flashback, montages and cinematic techniques to get to the action straight away. This is something today’s novelists are realising and adapting to, as opposed to the earlier days when the tone of a story would be set by first describing a backdrop or a character.”
Drawing on the example of Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz, the Saudi storyteller said: “Contemporary novels are now inspired by cinematic text. Cairo Modern was set in 1930s Egypt, an era very different from the late 1960s when it was eventually made into a movie in which even the four main characters were portrayed in a different light. The two were not the same and never can be but both have served their unique purposes.”
“In the end I think novels benefitted from cinema,” concluded Dr. Al-Ni’mi, adding that Mahfouz who began writing for the screen much later in his career went on to become a master of cinematic text while also remaining a great novelist. “He was an artist and that tells the story.”