On Sept. 10, children’s author Deborah Ellis attended the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Breadwinner, an animated film adaptation of her bestselling, award-winning middle grade book about a young Afghan girl who dresses as a boy to make money for her family in a Taliban-ruled city.
The Simcoe, Ontario, writer, who spoke with Quill & Quire the morning after the premiere, says she started the evening at the pre-party at a Toronto hotel and then walked the red carpet, where throngs of people were gathered to see executive producer Angelina Jolie with five of her six children. “She was very gracious, very kind, and enthusiastic about the project,” says Ellis, who spoke with Jolie after the film.
It was the second time Ellis watched The Breadwinner, but the first time with a large audience, full of children. She acknowledges that both the book and film are tense, scary, and difficult, but feels that shouldn’t be a concern: “We make children deal with [these issues] all around the world for real,” she says. “We’re selling arms to Saudi Arabia which are going to be used on the people of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. So we are subjecting children to this in real life. We can’t say our children are precious and can’t watch scary things while in the meantime we’re bombing the bejesus out of other kids.”
While the movie screenwriter, Anita Doran, made many changes to the book, Ellis is impressed by and completely positive about the final product. “There are some differences,” says the author, “but the film holds true to the book’s spirit – that war is a great damn waste and it does terrible things to people and to families and we need to knock it off.”
At the screening Q&A, Ellis spoke about the genesis of the Breadwinner series (inspired by interviews with women and children in Afghanistan). It was an emotional moment for Ellis’s publisher, Sheila Berry of Groundwood Books: “It was moving to see the end result of so much creative and dedicated work from so many people from around the world. And moving to hear Deborah speak of her lifelong dedication to anti-war activism and feminism.”