Joseph and Shushan Yeghoyan had great foresight in 1960 to bestow the name Atom on their newborn son. The completion of Egypt`s first nuclear reactor must have inspired the Yeghoyan`s to identify this bundle of energy in its purest form.
Their move to Victoria, B.C., three years later found them changing their name to Egoyan for simplicity`s sake. Growing up in B.C., Atom Egoyan had a relatively average childhood. His quest for assimilation led him to rejecting his family`s culture. However, years later, when he attended the University of Toronto, he began to reconnect with his Armenian past.
While studying international relations with every intention of becoming a foreign diplomat, he completed his first short film. Howard in Particular was made possible with some help from the Hart House Film Board, a student association within U. of T. This freshman attempt picked up a prize at the Canadian National Exhibition Film Festival. With this early success, Egoyan began his next project, writing and directing a half-hour short entitled Open House in his senior year.
Upon graduating from U. of T., he joined the Tarragon Theater in Toronto as a playwright. During this time the Canadian Broadcasting Company purchased the rights to Open House. Egoyan had quickly gone from student filmmaker to having his work exhibited coast-to-coast.
Having worked on short films and plays, he was now ready to go all the way. His first feature film, Next of Kin (1984), told the story of a young man in crisis with his family. While attending video therapy, he uncovers the tapes of an Armenian family dealing with the loss of their son through adoption. He goes to this family and presents himself as their long-lost son. The intricacies of the family web are dissected and examined with such intensity that its basic investigation of natural selection is at once painful and riveting.
He made another connection with the CBC, this time to direct the television movie In This Corner, a tale of an Irish boxer, for the presitigous series, For the Record. Egoyan`s television directorial credits expanded, and he was becoming increasingly in demand from Canadian and American productions on location in Toronto. His love of the feature film did not suffer though.
The year 1987 brought Family Viewing, the story of a dysfunctional family. Again he delves into the privacy of the home, only this time in the form of a black comedy. In 1991, Egoyan released The Adjuster. It had its world premiere in the Director`s Fortnight program at the Cannes Film Festival and went on to be named best feature at the 1991 Toronto Festival of Festivals, where it was lauded as “a marvel in every sense of the word.”
Egoyan finally had the opportunity in 1993 to visit his parents’ homeland when he went to Armenia to film scenes for Calendar. It was his chance to meld his heritage with his adoptive homeland Canada. He worked again with the CBC, directing a script by Paul Gross, Gross Misconduct, which chronicled a hockey player and his spiral into chaos. Tarnishing Canada`s golden boys is risky business, but Egoyan directed a critically stunning made-for-televisionmovie that gave insight into the hero status given to these athletes and how it affects them.
His first commercial success came with Exotica (1994), in which his cinematic eye and storytelling talent fused to produce a stunning film. He became the first Canadian in five years to officially compete in the Cannes film festival. As if that wasn’t enough, Exotica won the International Critics Prize.
In 1996, Egoyan had the opportunity to serve on the Cannes Jury. And in 1997 he again returned to compete with The Sweet Hereafter. Pictured on the right with Ian Holm in a still from the production that is part of The Northernstars Collection, his first adaptation of a novel went on to win three prizes at Cannes and received two Oscar® nominations, for Best Director (the first time a Canadian director had been nominated for a Canadian film) and Best Adapted Screenplay. As if films weren’t enough, Egoyan took his interest in music (he can play classical guitar) into the forum of classical opera. He directed three productions, including the 1996 Toronto Opera Company`s Salome.
Felicia`s Journey opened the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, an honour bestowed upon him in 1997 with The Sweet Hereafter. His drama about the Armenian genocide, Ararat, was selected to open the 2002 festival and was honoured with five Genie Awards in 2003, including Best Picture.
His 2005 film Where the Truth Lies is a 1970s-era period drama. The main stars, Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, wear bell bottoms and big-collared shirts and play former partners of a once highly popular comedy team – you’re supposed to think Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – although this film is based on a book that is pure fiction. Produced by Robert Lantos, the budget was said to be between $24 and $26 million, making it one of the most expensive Canadian film ever made. Where the Truth Lies marked the sixth collaboration between Egoyan and Lantos, and was Egoyan`s fifth film to be selected in the Official Selection in Cannes, the most for any Canadian director.
In July of 2007 it was announced that he had started work on the film Adoration. With a budget of $5 million the feature, set in Toronto, explores how kids redefine themselves through the Internet. The drama centers on a high school student caught up in family history, technology and a shocking and explosive lie that intertwines the lives of his uncle and his French teacher, while forcing him to reconcile conflicting memories of his deceased parents.
His next film, Chloe, was released in late March 2010. Shot in and around Toronto and at the then newly opened Filmport studios, Julianne Moore plays a successful Toronto doctor who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson), a handsome music professor, of cheating on her. To lay her suspicions and fears to rest, she hires an irresistible young woman, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), to test David`s fidelity. Chloe`s torrid tales of her encounters with David lead Catherine on a journey of sexual and sensual re-discovery. Chloe was selected to open the 2009 San Sebastian Film Festival and is based on Anne Fontaine’s 2003 French film, Nathalie.
The critical and box-office success of Atom Egoyan`s films serve as both a symbol of national pride and a role model to up and coming directors, screenwriters and… foreign diplomats alike.