IMAX at Hot Docs
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(April 9, 2018 – Toronto, ON) There are some people who you just know will follow in their father’s footsteps. It came as no surprise to anyone that the young Stephen Low would grow up to work in the film industry. His father was, after all, a renowned National Film Board animator, producer and director. During the 1960s, Colin Low helped develop revolutionary film formats and for Expo ’67 in Montréal, he co-directed In the Labyrinth, a film that used 35mm and 70mm film projected simultaneously on multiple screens, and which is considered the precursor of today’s IMAX and OMNIMAX formats. Over the course of his career he picked up over 100 international awards for his work. How could Stephen not be attracted to filmmaking.
Stephen Low has been highly successful in his own right. For example his 3D short The Last Buffalo was produced for the Suntory pavilion at Expo ’90 in Osaka, Japan and became one of the most popular attractions at the fair, drawing close to two million viewers over six months. The film was the second produced in the revolutionary 15/70 3D medium for IMAX 3D theatres.
His newest project, The Trolley, explores the power and potential of a once nearly forgotten piece of 19th century innovation and is the first IMAX film selected to screen at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.
It struck me as an interesting bit of timing. Here is this marvellous piece of film technology focused on a topic that dates back to the mid-1880s, and it was made at a time when, despite the obvious attraction of seeing a movie on a GIANT screen, the invention of the smartphone with their tiny screens, seems to be the way most people now consume moving images. This growth, thanks in part to Vimeo or YouTube and a concerted effort by broadcasters to push their streaming services, now includes several films shot entirely on cellphones. Last year, for example, the Sundance hit Tangerine was shot on three iPhone 5s.
I turned to Hot Docs programmer Shane Smith to answer a few questions and he pointed out a few facts that helped him make the decision to select The Trolley. In addition to the film being largely focused on Toronto’s iconic streetcars, he reminded me that this is the festival’s 25th anniversary and with Toronto being home to the very first IMAX screen in Canada, it was a great opportunity to thank the people of Toronto for their support over the years. Cinesphere at Ontario Place opened on May 22, 1971 and recently went through an extensive renovation including the installation of the latest OMAX projection technologies.
The Trolley, narrated by Maurice Dean Wint, runs about 45 minutes and visits a number of cities around the world where streetcars are still in use and growing in popularity. Tracing the history of the trolley from its very beginning, the main thrust of the film is to bluntly remind viewers, and governments, that as climate change threatens to become more extreme here is a clean, pollution-free way to move huge numbers of people quickly and efficiently through cities old and new.
But what about IMAX in the era of the smartphone? “There’s no substitute for the cinematic experience,” said Shane Smith and he’s right. His decision was based in part on the film having “a great story” and the conviction that there will always be a place for “big stories on the big screen.”
When I suggested the cost of producing an IMAX film might ultimately be problematic, especially when compared to the cost of shooting on a cellphone, Smith pointed out that IMAX films often have extremely long runs in many of the IMAX theatres around the world. I immediately remembered the Toni Myers film A Beautiful Planet, which is still playing at the Ontario Science Centre. It opened on April 29, 2016.
Hot Docs runs from April 26 to May 6. The Trolley has one free screening at the Cinesphere at Ontario Place on Saturday, May 5. Click here for more information.
Also see: IMAX at 50.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.