Bachelor of Arts (BA) 1982, Hon. Doctor of Sacred Letters (Hon. DSL) 1998, Hon. Doctor of Laws (Hon. LLD) 2003
Movies come and go but the films of Atom Egoyan stay – in the mind. This acclaimed Canadian director deals with issues at once contemporary, complex and eternal.
Born in Egypt and raised in Victoria, B.C., Egoyan studied international relations at Trinity College while writing movie reviews for a student newspaper. Next of Kin, Egoyan’s first feature film, gave ample evidence in 1984 of his fascination with the themes of alienation and technology. But these were apparent even in Howard in Particular, a short film he shot as an undergraduate in 1979 with funding from Hart House.
Family Viewing (1987) and Speaking Parts (1989) attracted Genie nominations and Exotica (1994) enjoyed commercial success. But it wasThe Sweet Hereafter (1996) that cemented Egoyan’s reputation as a major director. This film about the existential implications of a tragic bus accident won three prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and received Academy Award© nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Mychael Danna, Egoyan’s preferred composer, appears as a harmonium player. Another U of T graduate and frequent collaborator, Egoyan’s wife Arsinée Khanjian, plays a leading role.
Egoyan usually works as his own screenwriter. His movies often veer consciously away from linear structure and challenge audiences to piece together narratives. The thought-provoking subject of Ararat (2002) is the making of a movie about the Armenian Genocide. Its “creative rendering of the past” was cited by the jury of the $1-million Dan David Prize, an Israeli award for films that make a difference to the world.Where the Truth Lies (2005) and Chloe (2009) are both explorations of sexuality.
Egoyan has also involved himself with art installations. He has directed two operas, Strauss’s Salome and Wagner’s Die Walküre, for the Canadian Opera Company. At U of T, Egoyan has served as the Dean’s Distinguished Visitor in Theatre, Film, Music and Visual Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Science. In 2009, he established a scholarship for graduate students at U of T’s Cinema Studies Institute.
His philosophy is both realistic and positive: “Don’t get depressed about not being where you want to be. This nagging feeling of anxiety is actually called ambition. Ambition is your friend. Nothing will ever turn out the way you want it to. It may be better. It may be worse. It will never be exactly what you imagined.”
Published Nov. 28, 2013.