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Alberta Trailblazer: Colin Low (1923 – 2016)

Cowboy, artist, storyteller and pioneering Canadian filmmaker; director, animator, producer, mentor and collaborator at the National Film Board of Canada, Colin Low was born in Cardston, AB on the borders on the Kainai Nation Indian Reservation, which became a subject of two of his later films. Low attended the Banff School of Fine Arts and the Calgary Institute of Technology, now known as SAIT. His career at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal spanned over six decades, on more than 200 productions, most often as director, producer or executive producer. IMAX 3D exists as a format largely due to the initiatives of Colin Low, who headed the National Film Board’s push to continue its experimentation in 3D during the 1970s and 80s.  Mr. Low earned two Oscar nominations as a producer, and worked on another six Oscar-nominated films.


Colin’s personal theories and opinions on the value of an extra large screen and the logical compatibility of IMAX and 3D were presented to the Society of Motion Picture and Television engineers. Colin’s sustained energy in promoting and testing his theories over the course of more than a decade led directly to the creation of the first IMAX 3D film for Expo 86. Low received his second Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival, along with another BAFTA award and Oscar nomination for his 1957 documentary, City of Gold, on the Klondike Gold Rush, co-directed with Wolf Koenig. City of Gold made use of slow pans and zooms across archival photos and has been cited by Ken Burns as a key inspiration for the so-called ‘Ken Burns’ effect.

In 1960, Low and Roman Kroitor co-directed Universe, capturing the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who was preparing to make 2001: A Space Odyssey. Low was invited to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey but had to decline due to his work on “In the Labyrinth”, an experimental multi-screen production for Expo 67 though some of Low’s ideas were incorporated into Kubrick’s film. Collective brainstorming in the aftermath of “In the Labyrinth” gave rise to the inspiration that created the IMAX format, which overcame the technical challenges of multi-screen projection by combining them of a single large negative. Low was involved in a series of firsts in the wide-screen genre. He co-directed the first IMAX 3D production Transitions for Expo 86 in Vancouver, as well as co-directing Momentum, the first film shot and projected in 48 frames per second IMAX HD for Expo 92 in Seville, Spain – anticipating HFR cinema by more than two decades. 

Colin Low excelled at the kind of informative, intimate documentaries of ordinary people’s lives for which the National Film Board became world famous. He will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously during the Rosies Gala and 43rd Alberta Film and Television Awards. 


Albertan Filmmaking Pioneer: A Colin Low Tribute

Sunday, April 30 at 1:00pm
8712 109 St, Edmonton, Alberta
Free Admission

Event Info – Metro Cinema

The National Film Board (NFB), Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) and the Metro Cinema present a retrospective of some of Colin Low’s most famous short films.