Here’s the 411.
Two weeks ago, I posted the completely contrived and invalidated statement that former GSCA Chair and head of Smithsonian theaters Toby Mensforth was slated to become the new Executive Director of Milwaukee’s Forest Discovery Center. Within days of this posting, the following photo was circulating around the internet with the caption that Toby was preparing for his new job. My posting, combined with this photo, resulted in quite a bit of feedback, including a possible email that may or may have not come from a Canadian chap, who for reasons of anonymity, I shall call “Wes,” that may or may not have stated, “Where did you get this scoop on Toby? I’m scheduled to interview for that position next week!”
This brings up the matter of what we believe and faith in that belief.
One of the most prominent of Canadian filmmakers, had an interesting take on this matter. In the 1960’s, IMAX co-founder Roman Kroitor sat down with artificial intelligence pioneer Warren McCulloch for a conversation about life, the universe, and everything. When McCulloch began postulating that men are nothing more than machines, Kroitor responded with his now famous comment: “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”
Upon hearing this comment, which appeared in the short film 21-87, filmmaker George Lucas would appropriate it (in a friendly manner reflective of an homage) and expand it into a concept he called “The Force.”
Which leads us to Kroitor’s part in the greatest conspiracy to hit the giant screen cinema industry since Mark Cowen and NASA faked the moon landings.
In August, the California Science Center and the American Freedom Alliance settled a lawsuit stemming from 2009, when the CSC canceled a rental of the Science Center’s IMAX theater by the AFA, where a planned showing of Darwin’s Dilemma, a film that supports the idea of intelligent design, was scheduled to take place.
But I’m not going to talk about this rather interesting, convoluted case, nor am I going to discuss the possible questionable tactics that each party put into play. You can access that information at the bottom of this post, with links to both the court documents and other pertinent information.
What I am going to discuss is the second film that was chosen for that evening, the IMAX 3D “pro-evolution” film We Are Born of Stars. “Pro-evolution” is the term that was used in the very public press releases and web postings for this event. Now I need to make a disclaimer at this point: There will be a number of films listed in this post and I have seen each and every one multiple times, including both Darwin’s Dilemma and We Are Born of Stars.
Which is why I can tell you that We Are Born of Stars is not a “pro-evolution” film.
Calling We Are Born of Stars “pro-evolution” and having it precede Darwin’s Dilemma is akin to calling Bravery in the Field a “pro-violence” film and having it accompany Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. It just doesn’t work.
There are thousands of other films that would be better suited as a counterpoint to Darwin’s Dilemma. If one were interested in IMAX films, there are a number that have played through the years, including Darwin on the Galapagos, Origins of Life, and Galapagos 3D. Perhaps the best choice would have been Volcanos the Deep Sea, which was boycotted across the South for its inclusion of evolution content. Complaints about the film in the Ft. Worth market even made the national news. This film even has a possible and simple solution to the problem central to Darwin’s Dilemma – why there is no pre-Cambrian fossil record.
If one were to have visited the Fujitsu pavilion at the 1985 World Expo in Tskuba Science City, Japan, one would have found a building full of computers (including one that translated handwriting into other languages) and robots on display. There were no exhibits showcasing the fundamentals of evolution. The highlight of the pavilion was an IMAX dome theater showcasing a 3D film – The Universe: We Are Born of Stars (the film would also play at Fujitsu’s pavilion at Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia). This film was designed to showcase the computing power of Fujitsu’s technology at the time. It also, from a filmmaking standpoint, explored solutions for showing 3D on a dome screen, taking into account distortion caused by both the curvature of the screen and fisheye lens of the projector.
But more important than the technological innovation behind We Are Born of Stars was its writer and producer, the very same person who, years later, would be echoed by proponents of intelligent design when he decreed that many in the world accept a higher power – Roman Kroitor.
For you see, Kroitor’s films quite often tend not to be what they seem. The obvious story line is not the central theme, but rather a device to convey the central theme. These themes tend to be reflections of historical teachings – mythology and philosophy – contrasted against modern society.
The 1961 film Lonely Boy, co-directed with Wolf Koenig, is a short documentary about then 19-year-old singer Paul Anka. But’s it much more than that. It is equal parts the mythological Middle Eastern story of Tammuz (and its variants, including that of the Greek Adonis) and the works of William Blake. It is that of a man who by his sheer beauty and voice has the power to woo women, yet still remains locked in eternal loneliness. Kroitor himself has refered to the film portraying “Paul Anka as a tragic figure.”
In 1967, at the World Expo in Montreal, one of the highlights was the Labyrinth pavilion, which featured a multi-theater presentation designed and directed by Kroitor, Hugh O’Connor, and Colin Low. Although on its surface the film appears to be about man’s relationship with the earth he inhabits, it is in fact a retelling of the Theseus myth, with modern society confronting its own monsters. It can certainly be considered a forerunner to the later films of Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke.
So now we come back to We Are Born of Stars. The three films that carry the joint moniker Universe, 1960’s Universe, 1985’s We Are Born of Stars, and 1990’s Echoes of the Sun, may on the surface appear to be about astronomy, evolution, and photosynthesis. But those are merrily the storylines that convey the true content. These three films present three differing approaches to the same subject (in fact Echoes of the Sun expands upon a central theme of the 1960 film). It is a philosophy that dates back to the Philebus and the Timaeus, two groundbreaking works by the famed Greek poet Plato. In them, he presents the joint ideas of the macrocosmos and the microcosmos. In its simplest interpretation, man is a reflection of the greater universe he inhabits. This, my friends, is what We Are Born of Stars is about.
There are some (not all) that use the concept of intelligent design to say the flaws in the evolutionary record indicate that there must be a higher intelligence at work. There are others that say scientific laws and principles show there to be no god or god-like figure in existence. When individuals express either opinion, science is left behind, replaced by philosophical thought. To either opt for or against a higher power implies that one has succumbed to a theological belief held steady by faith.
Indeed, variations of the ideas of micrcosmos and macrocosmos have been appropriated both by religions around the world, including denominations of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, and by science. Religion and science are two ways of looking at the same thing. They can be symbiotic. And perhaps that is the biggest lesson we can learn from We Are Born of Stars. But that’s just my belief. And I have faith in it.
See you again in a week or two – unless something big happens like George Lucas feeling guilty and giving half his fortune to Canadians.
SPECIAL THANKS TO JAMES HYDER, JOHN WEILEY, AND ESPECIALLY BILL KRETZEL FOR DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE CAREER OF ROMAN KROITOR AND OTHER KEY IMAX FILMMAKERS OVER THE PAST YEAR.
THANKS ALSO TO:
HANS KUMMER FOR SOME INTERESTING DISCUSSION ON THIS TOPIC AND AN IDEA OR TWO THAT MADE IT INTO THE PIECE.
LAWRENCE KAUFMAN AND RAY ZONE FOR ANSWERING MY QUESTION ON THE 2002 LFCA SCREENING OF WE ARE BORN OF STARS DURING THE COLIN LOW TRIBUTE.
TAMMY MARTIN SELDON FOR THE PHOTO OF TOBY AND TOBY MENSFORTH FOR HAVING THE GOOD RELIGIOUS FAITH TO ALLOW ME TO MANIPULATE HIS FUTURE CAREER IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
A comprehensive collection of court documents in the case of American Freedom Alliance v. California Science Center et al. is available on the website of the National Center for Science Education.
Additional information from both sides of the case can be found on the websites of the American Freedom Alliance, California Science Center, and Discovery Institute. Google searches will reveal a plethora of additional information from regional and national newspapers as well as subjective takes on the case from numerous bloggers.
Kroitor’s discussion with McCulloch is sampled in Arthur Lipsett’s short film 21-87 (1964). It is available to view for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
Darwin’s Dilemma (2009), written and directed by Lad Allen and produced by Allen, Chris Bueno, and Larry Frenzel, is distributed on DVD by Illustra Media and can be streamed online through amazon Instant Video.
We Are Born of Stars (1985), with computer animation directed by Dr. Nelson Max, Dr. Koichi Omura, and Colin Low, and produced and written by Roman Kroitor, occasionally shows in the 15 perforation/70 mm format in IMAX theaters.
The Academy Award winning short Bravery in the Field (1979), directed by Giles Walker and produced by Roman Kroitor and Stefan Wodoslawsky, is available to view for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
The Academy Award winning documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002), directed by Michael Moore and produced by Moore, Michael Donovan, and thirteen others, is distributed on DVD by MGM Home Video and can be streamed online through Amazon Instant Video.
As of 2010, no known copies of Darwin on the Galapagos (1982), directed by George Casey and Soames Summerhays produced by Al Giddings, were in circulation in IMAX theaters.
Origins of Life (2001), directed by Gerald Calderon and produced by Francoise Bellanger and Christian Oddos, occasionally shows in giant screen theaters. The film is also available for streaming through K2 Communications on the hulu website.
Galapagos (1999), directed by David Clark and Al Giddings and produced by Larry O’Reilly, Andrew Gellis, Peter Gruber, and Barry Clark, plays occasionally in IMAX theaters. The film is also available on DVD from Warner Home Video.
Volcanoes of the Deep Sea (2003), directed by Stephen Low and produced by Pietro Serapiglia and James Cameron, occasionally shows in giant screen theaters. The film is also available for streaming on the Netflix service.
Lonely Boy (1962), directed by Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor and produced by Kroitor and Tim Daly, is available to view for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
The final segment of Labyrinth (1967), distributed theatrically in 1979 as In the Labyrinth and directed by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, and Hugh O’Connor, and produced by Kroitor, Desmond Dew, and Tom Daly, is available to view for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
The films of Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke occasionally show in repertory theaters in the 35mm and 70mm formats. As of 2010, no known prints of Fricke’s giant screen films Chronos (1985) and Sacred Site (1986) were in circulation. Reggio and Fricke’s films are also available through a number of video distributors and online screening services. Please visit the Internet Movie Database for filmographies.
Universe (1960), directed by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low and produced by Low and Tom Daly, is available to view for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
As of 2010, no known prints of Echoes of the Sun (1990) were in circulation to IMAX theaters. The film is available for viewing as a special feature on the DVD release of The Hidden Dimension, distributed by Warner Home Video.