IMAX developer, director Roman Kroitor dies at 85

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Roman Kroitor

Roman Kroitor

Cana­dian and world cin­ema lost a true giant Sun­day with the death of film pio­neer and for­mer National Film Board of Canada film­maker Roman Kroitor.

Born on Decem­ber 12, 1926 in York­ton, Saskatchewan, Kroitor made enor­mous con­tri­bu­tions to film-making dur­ing his tenure at the NFB in the 1950s and 1960s, devel­op­ing the IMAX giant-screen for­mat at the NFB’s Mon­treal studio.

Most recently, the NFB and Kroitor were again cre­ative part­ners as the NFB ani­ma­tion stu­dio, led by ani­ma­tor Munro Fer­gu­son, devel­oped new cre­ative appli­ca­tions for IMAX Corporation’s hand-drawn 3D stereo­scopic ani­ma­tion tech­nique, SANDDE.

Kroitor co-produced the 2000 Imax Cor­po­ra­tion fea­turette Cyber­World. Made in 3D ani­ma­tion, the film opened on 21 IMAX screens, mak­ing $278,000 over its first week­end. By the week­end of Sep­tem­ber 29, 2002, it had grossed $11.2 million.

He wrote the NFB ani­mated short It’s A Crime (1957), pro­duced Pro­pa­ganda Mes­sage (1974), and pro­duced and directed In the Labyrinth, released as a the­atri­cal film in 1979.

It was his col­lab­o­ra­tion on the ground­break­ing multi-screen project In the Labyrinth for Expo 67 in Mon­treal that would set the stage for a new chap­ter in Kroitor’s life — as well as a new era in cinema.

Co-directed by Kroitor with Colin Low and Hugh O’Connor, and co-produced with Tom Daly, the ani­ma­tion was an immer­sive cin­ema expe­ri­ence that caused a sen­sa­tion at the Mon­treal world’s fair dur­ing Canada’s cen­ten­nial year. That same year, Kroitor chose to leave the NFB to fur­ther develop the process he helped pio­neer with In the Labyrinth in the pri­vate sec­tor, co-founding Multi-Screen Corporation.

Roman Kroitor was a remark­able man who has made out­sized con­tri­bu­tions to cin­ema as a film­maker, pro­ducer, and cre­ative and tech­ni­cal inno­va­tor,” said Gov­ern­ment Film Com­mis­sioner Tom Perl­mut­ter, chair­per­son of the NFB. “He was a leg­end whose relent­less pace of inven­tive­ness con­tin­ued through­out a long and pro­duc­tive career. His death is a ter­rific loss to the NFB, Canada and the world of cinema.”

Kroitor was a lead­ing light in direct cin­ema and the new doc­u­men­tary approaches that would put the NFB and Canada at the fore­front of a rev­o­lu­tion in audio­vi­sual sto­ry­telling, with works such as Paul Tomkow­icz: Street-railway Switch­man and the Can­did Eye series.

His cre­ative part­ner­ships with Wolf Koenig and Colin Low resulted in some of the NFB’s most acclaimed doc­u­men­taries of all time, includ­ing Glenn Gould — On & Off the Record, Lonely Boy, Stravin­sky and Uni­verse. As a pro­ducer, Kroitor was involved in the devel­op­ment of fic­tion films at the NFB, start­ing with Don Owen’s land­mark 1964 fea­ture Nobody Waved Good­bye.

Kroitor also played a role in the cre­ation of the Star Wars con­cept “The Force.” Direc­tor George Lucas was an admirer of the work of NFB exper­i­men­tal film­maker Arthur Lipsett and has cred­ited a con­ver­sa­tion between Kroitor and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence pio­neer War­ren S. McCul­loch, excerpted in Lipsett’s 1963 col­lage film 21–87, as part of his inspiration.

But it was a single-projector giant-screen sys­tem that held the most promise for Roman. Co-inventing the IMAX film sys­tem and form­ing IMAX Cor­po­ra­tion, Kroitor and his team set about redefin­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of cinema.

The NFB remained very much a part of that cre­ative devel­op­ment, with the NFB’s Mon­treal head­quar­ters serv­ing as the birth­place for the new medium. The very first IMAX film in 1970, Tiger Child, made for the Osaka world’s fair, was directed by Don­ald Brit­tain. In the years to come, the NFB worked with Kroitor and Imax on such break­throughs as the first IMAX 3D film, Tran­si­tions, and first IMAX HD film, Momen­tum, both directed for the NFB by Colin Low and Tony Ianzelo.

Kroitor returned to the NFB for sev­eral years, begin­ning in the mid-1970s, to head dra­matic pro­duc­tions, pro­duc­ing such acclaimed works as Giles Walker’s Brav­ery in the Field and John N. Smith’s First Win­ter.

Roman is sur­vived by his wife Janet and chil­dren Paul, Tanya, Lesia, Stephanie and Yvanna. Yvanna Kroitor nar­rated the 1979 NFB ani­mated short Sea Dream.

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