Canadian Armenian film director Atom Egoyan will be celebrated as one of Canada’s cultural treasures, winning a hugely prestigious Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards for lifetime achievement. And the announcement was being made just days before a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide — the event that has loomed over both the work and the life of Egoyan for decades, according to the Toronto Star.
Egoyan tackled the subject of the genocide in his 2002 movie Ararat, which was met by threats and complaints from pro-Turkish protesters. Since then Canada has officially acknowledged the genocide, but the U.S. still has not.
Ararat will get a big cultural salute in Toronto on Wednesday, when the anniversary of the genocide will be marked with a special concert showcasing the music of Armenia. One high point will be the premiere of a 20-minute piece called “Ararat,” by the distinguished composer Mychael Danna, commissioned by the TSO based on the score Danna wrote for Egoyan’s movie.
The Armenian genocide became world news when the Pope deliberately used the G word — prompting a rift between the Vatican and the Turkish government, which has always refused to acknowledge there was a genocide in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
“The Pope’s comments have had a huge impact,” Egoyan told Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star. “But even before that we were very aware this anniversary is a great opportunity to celebrate our heritage.”
Egoyan grew up in Victoria, in one of the only Armenian families on Canada’s West Coast. Both his parents are painters, who met at art school in Egypt. And his sister, Eve, is a noted musician.
Virginia Thompson, who is producing the May 31 gala, plans to focus not just on Egoyan’s films but his astonishing cultural range, which includes directing opera, plays and visual art installations.
“I still get nourishment from theatre and opera,” Egoyan said, citing as high points his recent revival of Die Walkure for the Canadian Opera Company, and directing Michael Gambon in memorable half-hour Samuel Beckett play called Eh Joe. That production drew huge acclaim in Dublin, London and New York, but I wish we could see it in Toronto, Stratford or Niagara-on-the-Lake.
This year looms as the culmination of Egoyan’s amazing career, with Die Walkure and the TSO’s salute to Ararat segueing into the Ottawa honour in May. Egoyan has won countless awards over the years in Toronto, Ottawa, Cannes, Hollywood and elsewhere, but the circle of GGPA winners is a very small and special club.
After a summer break, Egoyan’s 2015 reaches a peak with the world premiere in the fall of his latest movie, Remember. Once again, genocide is the subject.
Produced by Robert Lantos, who also partnered with Egoyan on Ararat and many other movies, Remember is a road movie, Holocaust memorial and thriller combined. It stars Christopher Plummer as a survivor hunting down the Nazi who wiped out his family.
“I loved working with Chris and I think this is a crowning role for him,” says Egoyan.
Although Egoyan has had a hugely successful run at the Cannes Film Festival, Remember will bypass the Riviera because last year, Egoyan’s movie The Captive was booed at the press screening.
“It was a brutal morning,” Egoyan recalls. “There seemed to be a gang mentality. It was so intense, it seems like yesterday.”
So when it came to returning to Cannes, Egoyan says, “I felt this was way too soon.”
That said, the world premiere of Remember will take place at one of the fall film festivals. I’d bet on TIFF or Venice.
And I feel confident that if Remember premieres in Toronto (as I hope), the projection will go off without a hitch.
Ararat composer seeks reconciliation
“I was astounded by the richness I found in Armenian music, from the early church chant, the court music and the folk music,” says Winnipeg-born composer Mychael Danna, who wrote the music for many of Egoyan’s films and won an Oscar for The Life of Pi.
At the TSO’s Wednesday concert, “These haunting melodies will be played by Armenian folk instrument musicians, along with the TSO and the incomparable soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian,” the composer says.
“On the 100th anniversary of what is in fact continuing violence, through the official denials of this historical event, I offer up this work to the memory of those who suffered and continue to suffer, in hopes of reconciliation, forgiveness and the brotherhood of all men.”