‘Call Me By Your Name’ screenwriter James Ivory returns to UO for screening and Q&A
Director, screenwriter and University of Oregon alum James Ivory visited campus Sunday evening to answer questions about “Call Me By Your Name.” Ivory produced the film and wrote the Academy Award-nominated script adapted from André Aciman novel of the same name.
The event began with a screening of “Call Me By Your Name” in the EMU Redwood auditorium as part of UO’s 2018 Queer Film Festival. According to event coordinator Isaiah Nixon, 293 people were allowed in — a long line led out the door and many had to be turned away.
“Call Me By Your Name” is a sprawling, epic romance that follows Elio, a moody, intelligent 17-year-old boy who falls in love with Oliver, his academic father’s 24-year-old student during their annual summer vacation in Northern Italy.
In addition to Ivory’s nomination, the film is up for three other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothee Chalamet) and Best Original Song (“Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens).
Ivory graduated from UO in 1951 with a degree in architecture and fine arts. His original plan was to become a film set designer, but he opted to attend graduate school at the University of Southern California in order to avoid being drafted in the Korean War.
About 10 years later, he founded Merchant Ivory Productions with his friend Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and his long-term romantic partner Ismail Merchant. Merchant Ivory Productions has won six Oscars for their films, which are often melodramatic, early 20th century period pieces adapted from English literature.
Ivory donated his special documents from the company’s films to the UO Special Collections, which include “photos, sketchbooks, scripts, business records, and correspondence with family, friends, and major film stars with whom Ivory has worked,” according to the UO Cinema Studies website.
“Maurice” is one of the most groundbreaking films he directed, centering on two men (Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves) who fall in love while studying at Cambridge University. According to Ivory, critics in England mocked the film for having a happy ending for the gay characters, calling it “unrealistic.”
“In the interim between that film [“Maurice”] and this film, it’s been very hard to find a gay film which was about happiness and joy and love,” Ivory said during the Q&A after the film.
The few mainstream LGBTQ+ films that do exist tend to derive their main conflict from the suffering of their characters. For example, Jack and Ennis of Ang Lee’s 2006 drama “Brokeback Mountain” can’t be together because they live in 1960s Wyoming, a time and place where homophobic hate crimes were much more prevalent.
The moderator of the event, cinema studies instructor Sergio Rigoletto, said that one of the revolutionary things about “Call Me By Your Name” is that it allows its gay characters to be in love without the impending threat of punishment. Sure, the fear of being found does live in the back of their minds, but their main reasons for not being able to be together are their age differences and the fact that Elio and Oliver only have six weeks of their summer together.
After the Q&A, several UO students lined up to tell Ivory how much “Call Me By Your Name” meant to them. UO senior Jeff Knight said he had read both the book and the screenplay three times and had seen the film in theaters at least five times.
“I read the book when I was discovering my own queer identity,” UO senior Kyle Heiner said. “I’m still looking for my ‘Somewhere in Northern Italy.’”
When UO junior Olivia Decklar asked how it felt to be nominated for an Oscar, Ivory laughed. “I didn’t dream about being nominated for an Oscar,” he said. “It was just accidental.”
“Call Me By Your Name” is now playing at the Broadway Metro and other movie theaters in Eugene. Ivory’s documents are available for viewing in the Special Collections section of the Knight Library on campus.
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