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Atom Egoyan Reveals ‘The Captive’ Cannes Trauma; TV Regrets & Plans For Literary Adaptation

Atom Egoyan has revealed that he was so traumatized by the negative reception to his Ryan Reynolds-starring thriller The Captive at the Cannes Film Festival that he will never return again with a film.

The pedophilia thriller, starring Reynolds as a man dealing with the disappearance of his nine-year-old daughter, was widely panned by the Cannes critics corps when it world premiered in competition in 2014.

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“It was actually the worst reviewed film that I ever did. We should never have taken it to Cannes,” the Canadian-Armenian director told a masterclass at the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra meeting in Qatar on Wednesday.

“It got this really crazy reception. It was in competition on the Friday night. I haven’t been to Cannes since because I just don’t ever want to come back to what we had that night. The last couple of films, we showed in Venice or Berlin.”

Egoyan said he was proud of the film, nonetheless, suggesting it had gained fresh resonance with the later revelations about U.S. financier and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.

“In terms of this incredible crazy cabal that we found out about his life after this, it makes more sense now,” he said.

“It’s an amazing performance from Ryan Reynolds, not what you’d expect him to do and the fact that he came back to Canada to be in this low budget films when he was at the height of his career.”

Egoyan said his move into working with A-listers after his early years of shooting with a tight band of family and friends, including his wife Arsinée Khanjian, was a natural progression.

“As the budgets got higher, I needed to have that talent in order to get the higher budgets,” he said. “If I had stayed with super low budgets, I probably could have kept making films with the family people I had, but I felt the opportunity was there and I wanted to push it as far as I could go.”

“When you have A-list talent on the set nothing changes. They’re great actors, and they’re there to do what they do. The problem is getting them on the set, to get the deals in place, that takes a lot of time and convincing.”

The masterclass also tackled Egoyan’s earlier career as a member of the so-called Toronto New Wave in the 1980s, with debut feature film Next of Kin, as well as his TV work on shows such Friday the 13th: The Series and The Twilight Zone.

Egoyan said one of his only career regrets was not taking TV more seriously, pointing to fellow Toronto New Wave member Jeremy Podeswa, who has since forged a career in TV on shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones.

He questioned whether he should have taken an HBO offer to get involved in a serialized adaptation of his 1991 feature The Adjuster, even if it only made it as far as the pilot stage in the end.

“I let other people do it because I was just too busy with features. Maybe in retrospect, that would have been an interesting time to get into television.”

Egoyan also talked about how his Armenian roots and experiences as a child moving from Egypt to Canada had informed his filmmaking, at first woven into the subtexts of his early films and then directly in titles such as Calendar and Ararat, with the latter film exploring the Armenian genocide through the eyes of a young director making a film about the atrocity.

“We premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and it changed my career because up until that point, I was making these very personal idiosyncratic films and suddenly I made this film with this more political statement. And people were not sure what to make of that,” Egoyan said of Ararat.

“I had to change my conversation because I became something of a spokesperson. I had this fantasy that by making the film I was able to open conversations, but in fact, it wasn’t that easy,” he recalled.

“There was a lot of anger, not just from the Turkish community, but also the Armenian community because they felt the film should be more straightforward, shouldn’t be an art film. It was a very messy period in my life, but looking back, I’m very proud that I did it. It’s exactly the film I intended it to be. But it took a while to recover from the effects of that.”

The masterclass also explored the making of Egoyan’s most recent feature Seven Veils, starring Amanda Seyfried as a director in the throes of mounting a production of the opera Salome.

Egoyan said the financing of the feature had been complicated by the fact the production was tied to a real-life production of Salome.

“The opera was playing just over a year ago in Toronto. I had to film it while it was on stage and while we had the singers. Very few of the financiers understood this condition. Everyone kept saying, ‘Can you just delay it until we get the financing is in place?’ and I was, ‘No, We’re either going to shoot it when it’s happening, or it’s impossible’.”

The production hit a crunch point when Canadian funding body Telefilm declared the film needed more development before it would back it.

“I became so like obsessed with this idea that it had to happen that I kind of willed it to happen. We tried to raise money commercially and got an advance and then we got the Canadian Opera Company to defer. I won’t go into the details, but we shot in 19 days because we had to, we had no choice,” Egoyan told the masterclass.

Talking to Deadline afterwards, Egoyan said he has yet to set his next movie project, but that he expected it to be a literary adaptation.

“I don’t have anything that I’m ready to announced yet. I’m really looking at doing another literary adaptation at this point,” he said.

“In terms of my own original material, this film (Seven Veils) really said a lot of stuff that I had within me and I’m looking at other projects. There’s a large historical project that has come up in Europe that I have to make a decision on.”

“It’s a question of where my efforts are best put. When I do something I need to feel that I’m the only person who could be doing it for better or worse. Sometimes there are projects where I feel like someone else could do it better.”

Alongside mulling his next feature project, Egoyan is also gearing up for two opera productions: Jenufa at  the Opera de Montreal and Death in Venice at the Pacific Opera Victoria.

“I’m trying to fit them into my film schedule, which is always challenging, but I will never do the two things at the same time. I learned that they are two different worlds,” he said.

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