Atom Egoyan

Ararat

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

Canada's Atom Egoyan returns to one of his favourite themes - denial - in "Ararat", a powerful exploration of the issues surrounding the Armenian genocide between 1915 and 1918.  

Were you comfortable with making a film about the Armenian holocaust in front of an Armenian audience?

I was completely intimidated. I had tried to find a way of dealing with this story, and had found that a classical film was not what was interesting to me. I needed a way of making it more personal, of talking about how that story lives today. I was then seized with the idea of making a film that would create a forum about that type of film.

Is "Ararat" aimed solely at Armenians?

No, I have always felt that this story is universal. When I began to understand the details of the history, I felt that the most compelling aspect was not what happened, but what continues to happen and how it is denied. You can talk about Holocaust denial, but it's really marginal for the most part. What is compelling about the Armenian genocide, is how it has been forgotten.

You named your son Arshile after the Armenian painter, Arshile Gorky, who is a character in "Ararat". How important is he?

He's a huge figure for me. You could make a film about him but then you'd run into the "Frida" phenomenon. I get impatient with biopics where someone is reeling from an early trauma throughout their life. I just extracted what I found most fascinating about the character. He represents a survivor, but a survivor who wants to move on and doesn't want to talk about these events in a literal way.

Your parents paint. Were the Gorky scenes an indirect homage to them?

Yes, exactly. They taught me to believe that through the creative act, we're able to transcend and give a response to desecration. Maybe the closest we come to the sense of the desecration of genocide is not the epic scenes in the film-within-a-film, but in the moment when Gorky erases his mother's hands. That, to me, is the purest expression of what those feelings would be.