Fotolur photo: Arsinee Khanjian and Atom Egoyan
By Gayane Danielian
Atom Egoyan, the famous Canadian film director of Armenian origin, said on Monday that he is stunned by a hero’s welcome he received in Armenia for addressing the 1915 Armenian Genocide in his latest movie “Ararat” distributed worldwide.
Egoyan, who arrived in the country for the film’s Armenian premiere at the weekend, said the outpouring of public sympathy was beyond his expectations.
“I didn’t know what to expect by bringing it here to Hayastan (Armenia) because we are in a different state of consciousness in the Diaspora,” he told a news conference in Yerevan, speaking for himself and his wife Arsinee Khanjian, who played one of the main characters in “Ararat.”
“But the extraordinary emotional response that we felt in the audiences has been overwhelming for both of us,” he added. “We are now so proud of this movie. And although we received a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere in Cannes, this is our high point.”
Egoyan and Khanjian drew rapturous applause from several hundred spectators on Saturday night as they made their first public appearance on the second day of the heavily publicized film’s screening in Yerevan’s largest movie theater. The visibly moved couple then walked on the stage to receive thanks and answer questions.
On Monday, President Robert Kocharian handed over to the film-maker one of Armenia’s highest state honors, the Movses Khorenatsi Medal, welcoming the release of “Ararat.” Egoyan and Khanjian were also given special residency permits entitling them to visa-free travel to Armenia for what Kocharian called an “important step” toward international recognition of the genocide.
Earlier in the day, as they visited the ancient Khor Virap monastery facing the imposing Mount Ararat right across the Turkish border, the couple were surrounded and greeted by scores of enthusiastic residents of a nearby village. The spontaneous outburst of admiration delayed their news conference by one hour.
“Clearly, this is a personal film; it’s not made through a studio system,” Egoyan told journalists in Yerevan. “It conforms to the structure and approach I have used in other films.”
“Ararat,” condemned by Turkey for its poignant reference to the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, details the continuing impact of the mass killings and deportations on descendants of the genocide survivors in modern-day Canada. The Turkish government and lobbying groups, which maintain that the massacres occurred on a much smaller scale and were therefore not a genocide, have threatened its distributor, Miramax Films, with a boycott.
“[Turkish] threats continue and books are published against the film,” Egoyan said, adding that he would like to see “Ararat” screened in Turkey as well. But he admitted that although the movie is not officially banned by Ankara, chances of it reaching the Turkish public are slim. “I would like to think that we would be welcome there, but I’m also realistic,” he noted smilingly.