Universe (Roman Kroitor and Colin Low, 1960) and In the Labyrinth (Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, and Hugh O’Connor, 1967)

NFBAside from being an astonishingly effective and expertly depicted journey through space, Roman Kroitor and Colin Low’s Universe (1960) is probably most celebrated for its connection to Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  This Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning short was a revelation to Kubrick, who purportedly watched nearly every space movie made to that point in preparation for 2001Universe proved that it was possible to depict outer space with complete realism, and Kubrick hired the short’s special effects technician Wally Gentleman as an uncredited special effects supervisor and cast Universe‘s narrator Douglas Rain as the voice of the HAL 9000.  Colin Low was also invited by Kubrick to work on 2001, but the director turned down the offer to work with Roman Kroitor and Hugh O’Connor on the multi-screen documentary collage film, In the Labyrinth (1967), for Expo 67 in Montreal.  In the Labyrinth served as a precursor to the IMAX format developed in part by Kroitor, and the film’s content anticipates the immersive travelogues and spectacular anthropologies of films like Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy (1983, 1988, and 2002) and Ron Fricke’s Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011), although Labyrinth proves even more daring in its formal construction.  A link to In the Labyrinth is included below.

As per the NFB:

A triumph of film art, creating on the screen a vast, awe-inspiring picture of the universe as it would appear to a voyager in space, this film was among the sources used in his 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Realistic animation takes you into far regions of space, beyond the reach of the strongest telescope, past Moon, Sun, and Milky Way into galaxies yet unfathomed.

Click here to watch In the Labyrinth on the NFB website!

In the LabyrinthAs per the NFB:

A film without commentary in which multiple images, sometimes complimentary, sometimes contrasting, draw the viewer through the different stages of a labyrinth.  The tone of the film moves from great joy to wrenching sorrow; from stark simplicity to ceremonial pomp.  It is life as it is lived by the people of the world, each one, as the film suggests, in a personal labyrinth.

In the Labyrinth was first released as a multi-screen presentation for Chamber III of the Labyrinth at Expo 67.  These separate images were integrated into a single strand of film, using a “five-on-one” cinematic technique.

The Romance of Transportation in Canada (Colin Low, 1952) and City of Gold (Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, 1957)

NFBIf anything has made my immersion in the NFB worthwhile, it is my newfound appreciation for Colin Low, Wolf Koenig, and Roman Kroitor. These men were prolific contributors to the NFB, working together and apart on seemingly countless productions as directors, animators, producers, and writers and acting as pioneers working in the art of Direct Cinema, developing the IMAX format, and directly influencing the work George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, and Ken Burns. Presented here is Colin Low’s humourous The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), animated by Wolf Koenig and Robert Verrall. Romance won the Short Film Palme d’Or and a special BAFTA Award, and holds the distinction of being the NFB’s first Oscar-nominated animated film and the first international nominee in the Animated Short category. Also offered here is Low and Koenig’s City of Gold (1957), winner of the Palme d’Or, recipient of an Oscar nomination as a documentary short, and boasting narration by beloved Canadian historian, journalist, and television personality Pierre Berton. American documentarian Ken Burns has acknowledged City of Gold as a foundational film to his own work, and the debt owed to Low and Koenig’s use of archival photographs is obvious. Low, Koenig, and Kroitor should be widely know in film circles given their contributions to cinema and we’ll have more on them tomorrow and as our tribute to the NFB continues!

As per the NFB:

A light-hearted animated short about how Canada’s vast distances and great obstacles were overcome by settlers. The story is told with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness and takes us from the intrepid trailblazers of long ago to the aircraft of today and tomorrow. A 1953 Cartoon Short Subject Oscar®-nominee.

As per the NFB:

This classic short film Pierre Berton depicts the Klondike gold rush at its peak, when would-be prospectors struggled through harsh conditions to reach the fabled gold fields over 3000 km north of civilization. Using a collection of still photographs, the film juxtaposes the Dawson City at the height of the gold rush with its bustling taverns and dance halls with the more tranquil Dawson City of the present.