Atom Egoyan: The next script I’m developing is dealing a lot with
issues of security — home security…
Douglas Cooper: Will this encompass issues of digitalsecurity?
Encryption, for instance?
Atom Egoyan: Yes.
Douglas Cooper: When Louis Malle died, the obituaries quoted his
famous statement that film is, by virtue of its technology, an
ephemeral medium. The colors fade; the stock decays. Do you see
digital technology as a bid for immortality?
Atom Egoyan: I just went through this process a few weeks ago, where I
transferred all my one inch video masters to digital. And there was a
feeling after I had done that: I was put at ease. I don’t think
videotape is as degradable as people make it out to be; I still have
VHS’s that I shot at the University of Toronto in 1978, and they still
play. But certainly, in the back of everyone’s mind is the notion
that, at any point, the images could drop out. And with film, I think
black and white images are relatively secure. And you have to
remember, with color fading, you can always go back to the negative.
Whenever you go back to the negative, you can always strike a print.
We’re only talking about the release print, which fades.
Douglas Cooper: But didn’t Martin Scorsese recently return to one of
his films — Raging Bull, I think — to make still photos,
obsessively, of every single frame?
Atom Egoyan: Yes, that’s true. But I just don’t know how much these
more poetic views of the medium play into the process of creativity. I
don’t know how much an artist is aware of the ephemeral nature of
their medium when actually creating a film. It’s something that you
are aware of in a theoretical sense. It’s not as though the
consciousness that the digital image is forever is going to have an
incredible effect, is going to wipe away years of amassed insecurity
on the part of the artist. (laughs) It’s a nice thing to think of, but
it doesn’t quite work that way.
Douglas Cooper: Well, there are media in which artists are very much
aware of how ephemeral their medium is — performance art comes to
mind — but you don’t see film as one of these.
Atom Egoyan: I don’t think the ephemerality of the film image is
addressed as one of the essential aspects of the medium. It’s not like
theatre: the ephemerality of the theatrical moment is very much part
of the reason that moment becomes so powerful. And that’s why so many
pieces of theater find such a difficult and turbulent transition to
film. That element doesn’t exist in film. And when you take that
What film really plays with is the idea of the observed moment being
captured, and actually being preserved, as opposed to slipping away.
Douglas Cooper: Do you have any sort of impulse to work in the new media? Does it
Atom Egoyan: Yes: where it attracts me, certainly, is with a project like Calendar, for
instance. I think it would be very interesting, for that film, to have that on let’s say CD-ROM, where the viewer
can access real information about those churches. The translator in the film talks about these churches in Armenian,
and as an English-speaking viewer you are distanced from what he’s saying, and you are relying on Arsinée’s character
to translate that for you. But as it continues, and as she translates less and less — as the relationship
develops — that information becomes purely abstract… in fact, they’re no longer even talking about the
churches, at a certain point; they’re talking about their relationship. So I think it would be a very interesting
other level, if the viewer were able to access information: what the viewer thinks they may be talking about, but
in fact it’s not…
Douglas Cooper: So: hypertextual layers of interpretation.
Atom Egoyan: That’s right. In that film, I’m still toying with the idea of doing that. Because I think that
the whole transmission of information in that film, and the power of the person who holds the information, is such an
important element, and that’s certainly something that could be developed and accentuated through CD-ROM.
Douglas Cooper: That’s a very Egoyanesque use of the technology. Hypertext was developed to add real
information. And you’d use it to add false and confused information.
Atom Egoyan: One of the things I haven’t talked to you about, is that
I’m considering taking a sabbatical. I’ve been offered the chance to
teach for a year at L’ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, in their new
Douglas Cooper:New media? Not film?
Atom Egoyan: That’s right. They don’t really have a film department.
What’s great about the whole approach there, is that they like the
fact that I’m completely ignorant. They think that it will be
interesting to watch someone like myself grapple with that.
Douglas Cooper: Well you know, at the core of all your work is a
Rashomon-like quality, where people’s perceptions of what is happening
really matter to the outcome of the film. And you can work with that
in the new media in a way that you can’t do in film. I mean, you can
actually show nine different perspectives laid over each other.
Atom Egoyan: Yes, and the one thing I really have wrestle with is
that, on a film strip, there is at the end an authoritative central
version of reality that the viewer has to respond against, and I’m
still trying to wrap my head around the notion of that being plastic.
Douglas Cooper: I firmly believe that there’s a kind of new media
where you still do have the same authority that you would in a linear
media; it’s just more like architecture: the viewer can wander through
the piece in different ways, but you remain the author.
Atom Egoyan: I have a ton of catching up to do. I get into
conversations much like the one we’re having now, which are completely
theoretical, because I’m so behind in the practical hardcore
application of these ideas in technology. I just went to a
demonstration of Avid, and I’m still trying to decide whether my next
film will be edited digitally.
Douglas Cooper: So you don’t edit digitally, even now?
Atom Egoyan: No, I don’t. A lot of the work around the film is digital
— let’s say in sound, etc. — but the actual picture is still old
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