CULTURE

Atom Egoyan stays in control

In his first visit to the Greek capital, celebrated filmmaker Atom Egoyan must have felt right at home. Light snowfall and temperatures hovering around freezing welcomed the Armenian-Canadian director of landmark films such as «Exotica,» «The Sweet Hereafter,» «Felicia’s Journey» and «Ararat» on his trip to present his latest project, «Where the Truth Lies,» which stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth. Egoyan spoke to Kathimerini about his new murder mystery based around the story of an artistic duet’s breakup, as well as the difficulty faced by an artist when his work is seen differently by others. «Where the Truth Lies» is very different from your other films, both in content and style. How did this come about? It was the sense of satisfaction I got from the fact that the main characters are entertainers. I am always fascinated by people’s jobs and the way in which the work makes them face certain neuroses, which would be unacceptable under any other circumstances. Every line of work offers a different approach to people’s lives. In this film, the two characters are entertainers, public figures adored by everyone, and the other character is a journalist, who has access into the lives of other people. Beyond the psychological aspects of the film, I was also intrigued by the technical demands of having to reconstruct this glamorous world. In the United States you ran into some problems with censorship and the film received an NC17 rating (No Children Under 17) because of the love triangle scene. Well, I just hope the same doesn’t happen here. I had a terrible summer, because this issue had a huge impact on the film in the States. It was meant to go out to a much larger number of theaters, but the rating limited its advertising and distribution. It was cursed, and I still don’t get it. It doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who has seen the movie will know that it is not that hard core. In the end I think the problem lies in the fact that there are famous actors in the film and maybe they don’t want them appearing naked. Maybe that was the problem, because no one ever tried to explain it to me. Did the rating have an effect on the film commercially? Absolutely. When you receive an NC17 rating, there are many theaters that will not show the film and many newspapers that won’t advertise it. All of a sudden, although the production was planned in a completely different manner, the film was restricted to a small, art-house audience. In other countries, such as France, where it was shown normally, it did have commercial success. At the end of the day it is my fault. When I was shooting the love scenes I did them in just one way, but if I had considered that I would run into problems, I would have found some other way of doing it. How difficult is it to survive as an independent filmmaker? It is very difficult to resist the temptation to make a studio picture, because there you have guaranteed distribution. Nevertheless, you know in advance that you are giving up control. With my artistic point of view and my approach to cinema, I have to remind myself that I need to have control over my work. If I work for a studio, that will come under threat. I have to work much harder to find money and come up with solutions to problems, especially for films like my latest one, which was supposed to look like a Hollywood picture. In the end, I would not trade my independence for the advantages of the studio system. After «Exotica,» which was my first success, I have been approached very frequently, and even though I keep turning them down, they keep sending me scripts. Actually, I brought two of them with me on the flight to Athens. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I feel quite certain that as I director I can do any film I like. But I need it to keep me intrigued for two years, from the pre-production stage to the promotion. I have never read a studio script that intrigued me that much. My style I think, stems from the fragmented way I write the scripts. If forced to film a typical script with a linear narrative, I don’t think I would be suited for the job. I have spoilt myself in terms of retaining control because even when I am censored, it is still my picture. Canada has become something of an alternative Hollywood, with studios making a lot of films there. How does this affect Canadian filmmakers? Our crews are of a very high standard. «Brokeback Mountain» and «Capote,» for example, were both shot in Canada with local crews. The problem for us Canadian directors is that the crews are always engaged and expect very high fees. This has even influenced locations. If we want a home in Toronto to film in, the owner would expect a much higher fee than in the past. It’s unreal. Your last film, «Ararat,» stirred a lot of political controversy. Would you consider doing another film on the same story? «Ararat» is not so much a movie about the Armenian genocide as it is about the refusal to acknowledge it. Maybe one day I’ll make a more «historical» film. The question though, for me as a person of Armenian origin, is the manner in which they refuse to admit that the Armenian genocide ever happened and how this refusal has influenced future generations. I thought the film would help instigate some dialogue with Turkey and I was thrilled when we found a Turkish distributor. But, there were threats against the theater showing it, and against the life of the distributor, so we had to pull it. I was disappointed because it was an invitation to dialogue. This interview has been translated from the Greek text.