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Documentary an ‘awakening’ to Margaret Atwood’s genius

Margaret Atwood at the York Club in Toronto. (Peter Bregg/White Pine Pictures)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Margaret Atwood travels the world.

Since the TV adaptation of her book, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” became a success, the legendary author/poet has been catapulted into popular culture.

For two years, Atwood granted permission to filmmakers Nancy Lang and Peter Raymont as they worked on a documentary about her life.

“We met with her in the fall of 2017 and she told us she couldn’t give us an interview until Jan. 2019,” Lang says. “She was writing and wanted to finish it. We didn’t know what she was working on. This forced us to go into the archival material and we found everything we needed. We were fairly prepared by the time we got the sit-down interview.”

During that year, the duo was able to create the documentary “Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power.”

The film will screen virtually as part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, which begins on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Peter Raymont

Though the pair of filmmakers had unprecedented access to Atwood’s life, there were still some hurdles to clear.

“One of the main obstacles was our own trepidation and fear of taking on the subject and trying to do it justice,” Raymont says. “Trying to organize all of the material and this enormous catalog of her writing. It was incredible.”

The documentary dives into Atwood’s private life.

Nancy Lang

The duo wanted to find out who the writer was behind the stories and how she always seems to know what is to come.

The journey began by traveling the world with Atwood.

The pair witnessed droves of fans showing up to events ranging from a literary festival in Wales to a gathering of human rights advocates in Amsterdam.

Raymont says the film delves into Atwood’s backstory – from growing up home-schooled with no TV in the Canadian wilderness to her early days as a poet at Harvard, and meeting her partner, Graeme Gibson, and their political activism.

Atwood’s major works are threaded through the film, elucidating the personal and societal factors that inform her stories.

Lang says the novels highlighted in the documentary reflected her own life.

“The landscapes and elements in the stories, you can see that she knows it well,” Lang says. “Her own personal journeys are what we wanted to show.”

A scene from “Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power,” features Graeme Gibson, left, and Margaret Atwood in Toronto. (Peter Bregg/White Pine Pictures)

A scene in the film shows Atwood walking along the canals in Amsterdam and the filmmakers take time to show how precise Atwood’s attention to detail is.

“We would pass storefronts and she would intently look at every detail on the building or inside a store,” Lang says. “That’s her scientific background. She … has a very scientific approach to the way she thinks.”

Raymont says the documentary comes at a time when audiences need an escape.

“It’s really important to have something different,” Raymont says. “It’s a shame we’re not able to do in-person Q&As at the festivals and meeting audiences.”

Lang hopes audiences will walk away knowing more about Atwood.

“We wanted to best show who Margaret is and what her thinking process is like,” Lang says. “How did she become the writer she is? I have to say one thing, learning about her was an awakening to her genius.”

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