When David Scearce left his home near Burlington, Ont. in 1989 to study law in Vancouver, he fully intended to return to Toronto and practice law. But it took Scearce 20 years to make it back. He's not home for a job on Bay Street, though. He's in town for the Toronto International Film Festival to attend Monday night's screening of A Single Man - a film he wrote.
Oh - and he returns to his hometown via Italy, where A Single Man had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival to a standing ovation, rave reviews, and a couple of awards: best actor for Colin Firth, who stars as George, a gay college professor mourning the death of his longtime partner; and the Queer Golden Lion: an unofficial award, independent of the festival, for best gay-themed movie.
"A thing of heart-stopping beauty," wrote Wendy Ide in London's Times Online after the screening in Venice, going on to call the film "a work of emotional honesty and authenticity."
Not bad for something based on a lawyer's first finished screenplay.
Scearce has always wanted to write. When he reads, he says, he sees a film. And so he chose a favourite book, A Single Man by the late Christopher Isherwood, and set about adapting it.
Scearce had some high-level encouragement: he knew Don Bachardy, Isherwood's longtime partner, through mutual friends. When Scearce told Bachardy he wanted to try adapting the story for the screen, Bachardy urged him to give it a shot (without revealing that he had seen many scripts before and turned them all down).
Six months later, Scearce showed Bachardy what he'd written, and Bachardy got to work arranging for an agent at L.A.'s prestigious Creative Artists Agency to represent the script. Tom Ford, fashion designer-turned-director, took it on for his foray into filmmaking.
Ford re-worked Scearce's script (they share the screenwriting credit) but it was the way Scearce told the story that impressed both Ford and Bachardy. Rather than use a voice-over to relate the inner monologue that's so key to the celebrated 1960s novel, Scearce's screenplay told the story through a series of poignant flashbacks.
"Seeing the film premiere at Venice was an incredible experience," Scearce wrote in an e-mail from Italy this past weekend. "Although I had seen the picture earlier, it was still just as moving. When you're close to the material, it can be difficult to see it objectively. Yet, when the end credits began to roll, the crowd gave it a very sincere and long standing ovation."
Still, it's Monday's screening in Toronto that Scearce figures will be the highlight of the experience. "To now return for the North American premiere of my first film feels like quite a homecoming, indeed." Most importantly, Scearce's husband will be in the audience watching the film with him.
While Scearce still practices law, he has also continued his side project, writing an adaptation of Robert Lipsyte's 1970s coming-of-age story One Fat Summer, and completing the first script of a planned trilogy - which he calls a "very high budget post-apocalyptic mix of The Lord of the Rings and Mad Max ." For that one, he figures, he might need to wait a little while to find an interested studio - at least until the end of the recession.
But given the glowing reviews for his first film, Scearce may find himself writing full time, and making law his side career.
A Single Man screens as a TIFF Special Presentation at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 9:30 p.m.