IMAX’s Other Legacy Can Be Found On The PlayStation 3

UPDATE 3/19/11:  Since posting this piece, I have been in discussions with Canadian film historian Bill Kretzel and director John Weiley over Roman Kroitor’s role in the production of “Imagine.”  The discrepancy lies in original publicity materials for the film listing him as “co-director.”  Additionally, depending on which filmography you use, he may or may not be listed as such for this film.  Nonetheless, he certainly acted as producer.  To play on the side of caution, I have removed mention of Kroitor as director of this film, opting to use IMAX’s official credits for the movie, which lists Kroitor as producer, Weiley as director, and the late Noel Archambault as director of photography.  “Echoes of the Sun” has been retained as he is listed by IMAX as being the co-director for this film.  Unfortunately, although I have a copy of “Echoes” on DVD, I was unable to use this to confirm his role as the film itself does not offer any on-screen credits.  I have also added an ommission, “Rolling Stones At the Max,” which Kroitor co-directed with Julien Temple, David Douglas, and Archambault. 

There are two sides to IMAX.  There’s the modern side, which is about Hollywood and cineplexes, and then there’s the traditional side, whose legacy is steeped in using the technology as a canvas for the artistry and storytelling of filmmaking.  I can mention a film like “Transformers” and everyone knows what I’m talking about.  But mention “Snow Job,” and most will have a quizzical look.  David Keighley, IMAX’s newly promoted Chief Quality Officer, speaks often about meeting with James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, but it’s when he reminisces about those early days of working on films for Ontario Place with the IMAX founders that you truly see a twinkle in his eye.

Well, IMAX’s legacy can now be found in 3D on your television courtesy of SONY.  And I don’t mean 3NET.  On the PlayStation Store’s 3D Collection, you can download a substantial and growing number of 3D shorts from the National Film Board of Canada.  The film’s producer is a very important part of the equation here as the NFB is no stranger to 3D, and is partially to thank for both IMAX and IMAX 3D.

IMAX’s roots lie at Expo ’67 in Montreal.  There, two NFB directors, Colin Low and Roman Kroitor followed their succesful 1960 co-production “Universe” with the multiscreen picture “Labyrinth.”  At the same time, Kroitor’s brother-in-law, filmmaker Graeme Ferguson, directed “Polar Life,” another multiscreen production for the Expo.  Kroitor would partner with Ferguson and Ferguson’s high-school friend the late Robert Kerr, to form Multi-screen Corporation, which would lead to the single projector 1570 film system known as IMAX. 

Low became a producer for the NFB, but began working on four pivotal IMAX films in the 1980’s and 90’s.  He directed the NFB-produced Atmos, a tantalizing journey into weather systems designed for Omnimax theaters in 1980.  Low then consulted on the first IMAX 3D presentation, “We Are Born Of Stars,” an anaglyph computer animated short projected on a dome for the Fujitsu pavilion at the  Tsukuba Expo in 1985.  A year later, he co-directed an IMAX film produced by the NFB for Vancouver’s Expo ’86,”Transitions,” the first IMAX 3D film using polarized glasses.  He followed that with an NFB-produced movie for Taejon Expo ’93, “Momentum,” the first (and one of only a couple ever made) IMAX HD motion picture, projected at 48fps.

Ferguson would  direct a number of IMAX films through “The Dream is Alive” in 1985 and would continue working as a producer with the company on its space and undersea documentaries.  Kroitor would continue to direct through 1974’s “Circus World,” and would then produce a number of television shows and 35mm and IMAX films.  He returned to directing in 1990 with “Echoes of the Sun” (co-directed with Nelson Max), which was the first IMAX SOLIDO  film, 1991’s “Rolling Stones At The Max” (as co-director), and in 1998 with the short “Paint Misbehavin'” utilizing the revolutionary IMAX SANDDE system he had developed for 3D animation.

Now the next generation has taken the torch.  Colin’s son Stephen has been  well versed in giant screen films and 3D for over two decades.  His two most recent films, “Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D” and “Legends of Flight 3D” both opened to rave reviews and continue to sell out at theaters around the world.  Graeme’s son Munro and Roman’s son Paul are working on a different kind of project altogether.  They are stereoscopic consultants on a series of 3D shorts produced by the National Film Board, many of them utilizing SANDDE animation. 

Not too long ago, in the days before television commercials and thirty minutes of trailers in theaters, films were preceded by shorts.  In a not too distant past, filmmakers and artists were not afraid to make 3D and the giant screen their canvases.  We rejoiced with such works as Nina Paley’s “Pandorama,” Mark Osborne’s “More,” Curtis Linton’s “Princess and the Pea,” Don MacBain’s “Fire,” Tom Huggins’ “Boar Pigs,” Ron Fricke’s “Sacred Site,” and Munro Ferguson’s “Falling in Love Again.”

So, IMAX, REALD, and exhibitors, I challenge you to stop thinking of cinema as a place for cash and start thinking of it as a place for art (and as a side note, Rich, Brad, and Greg: don’t forget where your company came from.  Forty-six years before “Sucker Punch,” Graeme Ferguson was putting sexy women up on the screen).   Any of the recent NFB stereoscopic shorts would add a little extra to your programming, giving you an edge on the competition that’s not just based on technology. 

In the meantime, there are currently thirteen films available for download on the Playstation Store.  If you have a PS3, I highly encourage viewing these.  If you don’t have a 3D television, don’t worry.  They will play in 2D and they’re just as enjoyable in this format.  Thanks to SONY and the NFB, we have another unique way to enjoy IMAX’s other legacy.  They might just put a twinkle in your eye too.

Special thanks to the following for contributing and verifying information small and large for this post: John Weiley, James Hyder, Bill Kretzel, the Fourth Earl of Bournemouth, Sir Richard Vaughan, Judith Rubin, and Richard Conville.

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