Born in Egypt to Armenian parents, he was raised in Western Canada. Both his parents were painters, and he planned to be a playwright, but after making a short film, he became hooked on telling stories visually. Returned to ethnic "homeland" when he filmed Calendar (1993) in Armenia.
He has carried off some of the most prestigious awards, including the Cannes Grand Prix and two Oscar nominations for The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and the Freedom of Expression Award from the USA National Board of Review for Ararat (2002).
His other films include Family Viewing (1987), The Adjuster (1992), Exotica (1994), Felicia’s Journey (1999), Where the Truth Lies (2005) and Adoration (2008), the last three of which competed at Cannes. In addition to being a movie director, screenwriter and producer, he has also directed theatre, opera and TV.