“We made this film without any preconceived notions”: Interview with Atom Egoyan

English Daily #3
Thirty years after its initial release, the story behind GAIFF closing film Calendar (1993) remains a fascinating one. Its director, the esteemed Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, had just won a cash prize at the Moscow film festival of one million rubles for his early masterpiece The Adjuster (1991), money which was earmarked for a film production in one of the Soviet states. “I was so excited,” recalls Egoyan, a Cairo-born Armenian who had never seen, let alone filmed his motherland. “I could finally shoot in Armenia and had this ambition for a much bigger film. And then, of course, it all collapsed: the ruble was completely devalued and Armenia wasn’t part of the Soviet Union anymore.”

Egoyan, however, persisted. He raised a fraction of his original budget and went with his wife, actress Arsinée Khanjian, to Armenia to shoot Calendar as an experimental film about a photographer who shoots canonical Armenian locations, meant to be published in the type of calendar that many Armenians, including those from the diaspora, would diligently hang on their walls. Egoyan played the photographer himself, besides Khanjian as the photographer’s wife, who becomes involved in a flirtatious dynamic with their local driver and guide, played by Ashot Adamyan.

“I think it captures a very particular moment,” remarks Egoyan, just after having seen the restored version of Calendar in the Cinematheque of Vancouver. “It was maybe the first film, certainly from the diaspora, that was shot in the new country. You can really feel this in the film, even in a practical way, just the fact that all of these beautiful church sites were quite empty. We were the only people there all day. There were no other tourists.” What also stands out in Calendar is its sexual politics that resonate with the disconnect the photographer feels with his place of origins. “It’s interesting that I had done it that way,” finds Egoyan now, “because my character was so different from what I was personally feeling back then. He’s very removed and quite cynical, very worried about what’s happening with the relationship between him and his wife, to the point that he’s not even experiencing the country anymore. Of course, that was not what I was feeling back then. I was actually really excited and happy to be in all these places.”

Another thing that makes Calendar such a stand-out film is its playful, experimental nature, which is still so vibrant three decades after its making. This was exactly one of the main goals for Egoyan. “I hope that Armenian filmmakers can look at this and say, ‘this is a film that anyone could have made.’ Really, it's very simply made. And I think it would be even easier to make it now with digital technology. Calendar is actually about liberating yourself from the formulas and cliches and just trying to find something which is sincere.”