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“CanLit movie heaven:” Sarah Polley to adapt Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People

Zoe Whittall (Arden Wray)

Zoe Whittall (Arden Wray)

It was announced on April 12 that actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley will write and direct an adaptation of Zoe Whittall’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted novel, The Best Kind of People (House of Anansi Press). The deal marks the first time Polley has stepped behind the camera since her 2012 documentary, Stories We Tell.*

Whittall and her agent, the Transatlantic Agency’s Samantha Haywood, discussed optioning the book – which tells the story of a teacher, husband, and father who is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school – with several people even before it was published in 2016, but Whittall says, “It was clear when meeting some producers that our vision wasn’t the same.” Some filmmakers wanted to remove a storyline about a character’s past gay relationship, which wasn’t an option for Whittall. “I think [it] adds texture to conversations about age and sexuality,” she says. “It’s important to me that queerness and young people with sexual agency aren’t cut entirely from the story.”

Whittall also took issue with how some producers wanted to approach the story’s main plot. “Some were more concerned with making a ‘is he guilty or not?’ film, or a procedural-style TV show, which would not be what I wanted,” she says.

Polley, who recently wrapped up executive producing and co-writing the CBC/Netflix adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, reached out to Haywood in February of this year to discuss acquiring feature-film rights for The Best Kind of People. “Sarah and Zoe’s vision was perfectly aligned from the first call,” says Haywood, who calls the deal a “match made in CanLit movie heaven.” Polley, who has demonstrated a nuanced hand at tackling serious subject matters such as Alzheimer’s disease, infidelity, and her own family secrets, understood Whittall’s vision and addressed her concerns. “I talked about [my] issues with Sarah and we were totally on the same page,” says Whittall.

It is not yet known when the film will hit the big screen, but the adaptation is slated to be Polley’s next project. “The plan is that Sarah is going to start writing the adaptation this year,” says Haywood. (Whittall will not formally be involved.) “It feels like a huge honour,” Whittall says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

*Correction, April 25: An earlier version of this story states that this is the first work of Whittall’s to be adapted for film. Her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, has been optioned.