News / Vancouver

Atom Egoyan returns to B.C. to mark 20 years since Sweet Hereafter

Victoria-raised director tells Metro how West Coast shaped him, ahead of free screening and talk about his 1997 masterpiece Wednesday.

Portrait of filmmaker Atom Egoyan, in this 2015 file photo, with memorabilia from his early films behind him.

David Cooper/Toronto Star

Portrait of filmmaker Atom Egoyan, in this 2015 file photo, with memorabilia from his early films behind him.

Atom Egoyan, one of the most iconic and celebrated Canadian filmmakers, has returned home to the West Coast this week, at least for a few days.

On Wednesday, the Armenian-Canadian filmmaker behind Ararat, Exotica, and The Sweet Hereafter will mark 20 years since the latter film’s release in May 1997 — with a talk and screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Vancity Theatre.

Born in Egypt, he moved to Victoria, B.C. at age three and graduated from the city’s Mount Douglas high school before moving east to Toronto.

But the West Coast made its mark — particularly what he describes as a “very unusual culture” that combines a “particular temperament about time” — many of his films pioneered and played with non-linear storytelling and slower pace — as well as “a last vestige of the British Empire.”

“B.C. really formed something in my character,” Egoyan, 56, revealed in a phone interview. “I was raised with natural beauty all around me, a certain temperament.”

In fact, when he decided to shoot the Sweet Hereafter — a film about the aftermath of a fictional school bus crash on a tight-knit small B.C. community — he imagined the Rocky Mountains initially, until he realized he couldn’t fit them into the camera frame, they were too big for the scenes he imagined.

So he headed further west, to Merritt and Ashcroft, B.C., where he could create the atmosphere he needed. And he had to set the adaptation of an American novel in B.C. for one simple reason, he revealed: it was the only jurisdiction in Canada that allowed lawyers to take a percentage cut of their lawsuit spoils, which was essential to the original story’s plot.

He feels hopeful about the state of film in B.C.

“There’s a whole crop of great new first features from B.C.,” he said. “At the time there wasn’t a very large film-making community in Vancouver, that’s changed. Vancouver is now I think busier than Toronto. It’s just booming. The landscape has changed dramatically.”

He described “a very promising new generation of filmmakers,” many being highlighted at the Canadian Film Week.

“The question and challenge for them will be finding an audience, an engaged audience, because there’s just so much out there,” he said. “But the skill is there, they just need to develop a very thick skin which any independent filmmaker needs.”

Egoyan's most recent film Remember was released in 2015, and follows a Holocaust survivor with dementia on a quest to hunt down a Nazi from his time in a concentration camp.

On Wednesday at 9 p.m., Egoyan and Sweet Hereafter and Exotica cast member Bruce Greenwood will speak and take questions at the Vancity Theatre as part of Canadian Film Week and the National Canadian Film Day 150.

Their film The Sweet Hereafter will be screened before at 7 p.m. Admission is free but reservations recommended through the Vancouver International Film Festival website.

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