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Tuesday, September 2, 1997

Egoyan proud to open Toronto film fest

Canadian Press
TORONTO (CP) -- Atom Egoyan, Canada's acclaimed filmmaker, says he cannot imagine having the career he's enjoyed without the support of the Toronto International Film Festival.
The festival, now considered the second most influential in the cinema world next to Cannes, opens its 22nd season Thursday and will screen more than 280 films over the following 10 days.
Egoyan's latest feature The Sweet Hereafter, winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes earlier this year, has been chosen for the opening night gala.
"I know that this is the most prestigious and exciting way I can think of bringing the film back to Canada is to open the festival," he says.
"So I'm really thrilled. And I also think it's a film that's going to play really well for that audience."
Egoyan accepts a recent criticism in Entertainment magazine that his style is "sometimes inaccessible."
But he says that's not true of The Sweet Hereafter, a wrenching tale about the impact on a small British Columbia community when a school-bus accident takes the lives of many of the town's children.
The film features such familiar Egoyan faces as Maury Chaykin, Sarah Polley and Bruce Greenwood and stars Ian Holm in a memorable performance as a slick but troubled big-city lawyer who arrives in town to persuade its residents to launch a class-action lawsuit.
"My style is very identifiable and some people have trouble with it," Egoyan concedes. "(But) they won't have as much trouble with this movie because's it's about real people."
Not that The Sweet Hereafter is a simple story.
Through imaginative editing, it shifts back and forth in time in a manner similar to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, a technique sure to challenge and engage viewers.
On several levels Egoyan also considers the gap between a small-town mentality that prefers to believe in fate and faith and that of the secularized urban world where the legal system has replaced religion in the search for cause and effect.
"That's the problem with this community, that the lawyer has become the priest. No one else is there to give them answers or to provide solace."
The film also carries a dark secret of incest at its heart, suggesting that parents in today's society are abstracting their children and thus losing proper emotional contact with them.
Although Egoyan has agreed to make a film for Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, he is still known as a director that avoids the Hollywood studio system and its style. Recently he turned down an offer to shoot a Warner Bros. thriller because he doubted he would have the personal control he demands.
In The Sweet Hereafter, for example, the centrepiece scene shows a school bus skidding off a snowy highway onto a frozen lake and then sinking beneath the cracking ice. The sequence is shot from afar, from the vantage point of a roadside motorist.
Egoyan is convinced Hollywood would have made him film it in close-up from seven different camera angles.
"But I am convinced this is the more powerful way to do it."
He also had no hesitation in relocating the story from its original New York State setting to his native B.C. He says it's Canadians, not Americans, who become too sensitive about the foreign marketability of our films.
"In Exotica there were scenes using Canadian currency, and that never came up. It got wide play in the states and no one asked why."
Egoyan is convinced Canadian cinema is on the verge of a huge international breakthrough. He says what's needed is to generate as much enthusiasm within Canada for home-bred films as there is towards Canadian music and literature.
"Once you get that momentum, I think astonishing things can happen."
 Some highlights of the 22nd annual Toronto International Film Festival, which opens on Thursday:
 Opening night gala: Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter.
 Closing night gala: Jean-Jacques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet.
 Other gala presentations: The Wings of the Dove, Chinese Box, Artemisia, Gattaca, The Assignment, L.A. Confidential, Men With Guns, The Edge, Marquise, Eve's Bayou, Regeneration, Swept From the Sea, In and Out, Fairytale -- A True Story, Mrs. Dalloway, Washington Square.
 Special Presentations Programme: The Apostle, Le Bassin De JW, The Spanish Prisoner, Suicide Kings, Henry Fool, Afterglow, Two Girls and a Guy.
 Masters Program: The Castle, The Duo, The Eel, Esmeralda Comes By Night, Funny Games, Journey to the Beginning of the World, Keep Cool.
 Canadian Program: Dance With Me, Drive She Said, Drowning In Dreams, Erotica: A Journey Into Female Sexuality, Fresh Off the Boat, Gerrie and Louise, Grace Eternal, Guise, Guy Maddin: Waiting For Twilight, The Hanging Garden, Hayseed, The Hazards of Falling Glass, Incantation, Kid Nerd, Kitchen Party, Linear Dreams, The Mao Lounge, Men With Guns (Canada), White Cloud Blue Mountain, Zie 37 Stagen, The Assistant.
 Midnight Madness: Fudoh: The New Generation, A Chinese Ghost Story, Love God, I Married a Strange Person, Orgazmo, The Ugly, Office Killer, Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan Supermasochist.