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Atom Egoyan - Biography

Atom Egoyan is a critically acclaimed filmmaker. He was born on July 19, 1960 in Cairo, Egypt. Atom Egoyan is a well-known and highly talented director who has made dozens of films. His films often explore the way human relationships are corrupted by the omnipresence of technology. Aside from teaching at the European Graduate School EGS, Atom Egoyan is also a faculty member of the University of Toronto. In 1999, Atom Egoyan was awarded Canada's highest civilian recognition: Officer of the Order of Canada.

Atom Egoyan’s life story has a clear influence on his artistic development. He was the first born child to to Joseph and Shushan Yeghoyan of Armenian descent. Atom Egoyan’s name was a symbolic choice by his parents, named after the new nuclear reactor in Egypt. At the time of his birth his parents were running a furniture store in Cairo. His parents were artistic and had both pursed the arts, his father studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. After having another daughter the family moved to Victoria, British Columbia in 1963. At this time they changed their last name to Egoyan and settled into life in Canada as they opened a new furniture store. Atom Egoyan’s interest in reading and writing began in his early teenage years. As a young reader he was influenced greatly by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. In his later years he worked as a housekeeper at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. This experience has had a clear influence on his film making and creative vision. The connection can be clearly seen in Speaking Parts (1989).

At the age of 18, Atom Egoyan went on to pursue his academic interests at Trinity College at The University of Toronto. His undergraduate studies focuses on International Relations. While a college student he began to reform a bond with his Armenian roots and joined an Armenian society on campus while studying his native language. In college Atom created a short film, Howard in Particular (1979), which was funded by the Hart House Program. This film was screened at the Canadian National Exhibition film festival. Howard in Particular, already begins to show some characteristics that are now a common thread amongst Egoyan’s work, specifically the theme of technology and the distortion of human communication. This film is about an older man going to his own retirement party where he plays an audiotape of his former employer listing different events in his career. The film is shot in black and white focusing on three visual images, the old man’s face, a speaker, and a tape machine.

Atom Egoyan is known as one of the most remarkable figures of contemporary independent film-making. His films typically inhabit a realm of (post)modern isolation, in which the characters are fractured in their relations with others through the possessive mediation of technological and bureaucratic apparatuses. The style of Atom Egoyan's films is notable for its consciously non-linear structure, in which events are placed out of sequence in order to elicit specific emotional reactions from the audience by withholding key information. In 2008 he received the Dan David Prize for 'Creative Rendering of the Past'.

Atom Egoyan has directed twelve feature films, as well as some short films and television episodes. His early work was based on his own material, and he received some notice for the film Exotica (1994), but it was Atom Egoyan's first attempt at adapted material that resulted in his best-known work, The Sweet Hereafter (1997), which landed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The film is based off a novel by the same name written by Russell Banks. The film stars: Ian Holm, Caerthan Banks, Sarah Polley, Tom McCamus, Brooke Johnson and Alberta Watson. The Sweet Hereafter documents the effects of a tragic bus accident on the population of a small town. The film deals with the complex struggles of grief and the impossibility of accepting the chaos of a world where by no fault such a tragic accident can occur. This existential anxiety is weaved through this beautiful film, with its delicate narrative structure and aesthetic clarity, this film defined Egoyan as one of the greatest filmmakers of our day.

He also directed the film Sarabande, starring Lori Singer and Khanjian, a drama which flanks cellist Yo-Yo Ma's performance of Bach's Fourth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, as part of the latter's Inspired by Bach series for Sony Classical. The film Ararat (2002) generated much publicity for Atom Egoyan. After Henri Verneuil's French-language film Mayrig (1991), it was the first major motion picture to deal directly with the Armenian Genocide. Ararat later won the Best Picture prize at the Genie Awards.

Atom Egoyan has won the Cannes Film Festival four times and is widely considered the most famous Armenian filmmaker since Sergei Parajanov. The Egyptian-born, Canadian-raised, Oscar-nominated master of indie cinema has also won four awards from the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. His most recent film Chloe (2009) is a remake based off Anne Fontaine's French film Nathalie…. Chloe stars Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried. The film is a psychological drama about jealousy and sexuality. The film deals with a complicated triangle love affair and clearly grapples with questions of the power of feminine sexuality. Sexuality is a theme common to Egoyan’s work such as Exotica (1994) and Where the Truth Lies (1995). Chloe is a departure in many ways from Egoyan’s earlier works, this film is more mainstream and draws more star power. It is also the first of his features for which he has not written the screenplay.

His feature films include: Next of Kin (1984), Family Viewing (1987), Speaking Parts (1989), The Adjuster (1991), Calendar (1993), Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Felicia's Journey (1999), Ararat (2002), Where the Truth Lies (2005), Adoration (2008), Seven Wonders (2008) and Chloe (2009).

Atom Egoyan has also published many books including: Atom Egoyan: Interviews. (University Press of Mississippi. June 1, 2010), Stephen Andrews. (Cue Art Foundation. 2004), In other words: poetic licence and the incarnation of history. (University of Toronto. 2004), Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film. (The MIT Press. October 1, 2004), Ararat: The Shooting Script. (Newmarket Press. November 2002), The Event Horizon. (Irish Museum of Modern Art. July 1998), Exotica. (Coach House Press. September 1995), Atom Egoyan. (Dis Voir. February 2, 1994), Speaking Parts. (Coach House Press. March 1993). He has published articles in Movie Maker, Travel + Leisure, University of Toronto Quarterly, Granta 86: Film, BOMB and Cinema Canada.

Atom Egoyan reminds us in his Golden Rules For Directing:

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.

Atom Egoyan is a professor of film at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Seminar.