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Colin Low

Director, Producer, Animator, Cinematographer
(b. July 24, 1926 Cardston, Alberta)

Colin Low is an unflagging innovator of technology and one of the true visionaries of Canadian documentary. He has been recognized as such with several honorary degrees, and has received over 100 awards for the more than 200 films he has collaborated on as director, producer or animator.

Like his mentor, Norman McLaren, Low’s work in animation and documentary has focused on experimental form and socially relevant content. His work is inextricably tied to the National Film Board of Canada and the renowned Unit B, where he made many famous animated and cinéma-verité films (including The Romance of Transportation in Canada, 1952; Corral, 1954; and City of Gold, 1957) and pioneered the Challenge for Change (1967) program. He also led experimental and creative work that produced new techniques of filmmaking and projection, including large-format cinema, the precursor to IMAX and Omnimax.

After completing studies at the Banff School of Fine Arts and the Calgary Institute of Technology, Low joined the NFB in 1945 under McLaren. He worked on a number of animated films, notably Cadet Rousselle (1947), and then, went to Stockholm to further his studies in animation. Returning to Canada in 1949, he was promoted to the role of director, and in 1950, he became the head of Unit B’s animation studio. Shortly after, he directed the acclaimed The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), a short film that was a key advance in character-driven animation. It was nominated for an Oscar® and won a Palme d’or in Cannes.

The NFB’s Unit B included both animators and documentary filmmakers, which meant Low’s colleagues were filmmakers such as Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor and Terence Macartney-Filgate, and unit supervisor, Tom Daly. It was not surprising, therefore, when Low teamed up with Koenig (as cinematographer) for the challenge of directing and producing his first documentary. The result was the award-winning short Corral (1954), a poetic film that has become a classic and helped characterize the developing Unit B movement.

Low’s next film, City of Gold (1957), co-directed with Koenig, is his most celebrated. Among other international awards, it received the Palme d’or at Cannes for best short film and was nominated for an Academy Award® for best live-action short, alongside McLaren’s A Chairy Tale. City of Gold brings the Klondike gold rush to life in a unique style that integrates historical stills and live-action shots with text and narration by Pierre Berton.

In 1960, Low co-directed Universe (1960) with Roman Kroitor, using ultra-realistic animation to represent an exploration of outer space. Universe won another Palme d’or for Low and captured the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who drew on the film to create the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Throughout the 1960s, Low continued to produce groundbreaking works that demonstrated his two abiding — seemingly paradoxical — interests: advancing filmmaking technology and film as a means of social expression. Between 1964 and 1967, he co-directed the sensational multi-screen film In the Labyrinth (1967), made for Expo ’67 using 35mm and 70mm film projected simultaneously on five screens. This initiated wide interest and support for the development of large-screen formats like IMAX and Omnimax. He also pioneered the use of film in com­munity development with the Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program (1967) and the Fogo Is­land series (1968, 28 films), in particular. Low was later invited to initiate a similar program in the United States.

From 1972 to 1976, Low was an executive producer for the NFB’s Studio C, overseeing more than 100 productions. In 1976, he became director of regional production.

Returning to his continuing discovery of technology, Low made the film Atmos (1980) in Omnimax. He was given an opportunity to pursue his interest in three-dimensional film when he was asked to consult and work on the animation for the first anaglyph, single-projector 3D film, We Are Born of Stars (1985), for IMAX. He went on to direct the first IMAX 3D production, Transitions (1986), and Momentum (1992), the first IMAX HD (high definition) film, in which the film is recorded and projected at 48 frames per second (fps) rather than the standard 24 fps. When the Large Format Cinema Association (LFCA) presented Colin Low with a special lifetime achievement award at its conference in May 2002, the LFCA described the partnership of Low and the NFB as “a major force in the emergence of large-format cinema and the development of IMAX.”

In 1996, Colin Low was honoured by being appointed a member of the Order of Canada, and in 1997, he received the Prix Albert-Tessier. Despite having “retired” in 1997, Low continues to make new films and investigate new techniques and publish articles, particularly in the area of high-definition 3D, giant-screen filmmaking.

His recent productions include the feature length Moving Pictures (2000), a vivid and gripping personal look at war and weapons proliferation and the creation and imagery of visual media, and Air Force: The Battle for Red Flag, an inside look at air-force combat training and its proximity to the experience of war, produced by Low’s son Stephen and due to be released at the end of 2003.

Film and video work includes

Cadet Rousselle, 1947 (co-animator with George Dunning)
Christmas Carols, 1947 (co-animator with Grant Munro, Robert Verrall, Lyle Enright, Helen MacKay, George Dunning)
Time and Terrain, 1948 (director; co-editor with Robert Verrall; animator)
Challenge: Science against Cancer, 1950 (co-animator with Evelyn Lambart)
Teamwork - Past and Present, 1950 (editor; animator)
The Outlaw Within, 1951 (co-animator with Evelyn Lambart)
Age of the Beaver, 1952 (director)
One Little Indian, 1954 (producer)
Riches of the Earth, 1954 (director)
Alternate versions: A Thousand Million Years, 1954 (director) Riches of the Earth, 1966 (director)
Gold, 1955 (director)
The Jolifou Inn, 1955 (director; editor)
Douglas Roberts, Wolf Koenig)
The Living Stone, 1958 (cinematographer)
City Out of Time, 1959 (director)
A Is for Architecture, 1960 (producer)
Do You Know the Milky Way, 1960 (director)
Hors-d'oeuvre, 1960 (producer)
The Peep Show, 1962 (producer)
Pot-pourri, 1962 (producer)
The Ride, 1963 (producer)
The World of David Milne, 1963 (producer)
21-87, 1964 (producer)
An Essay on Science, 1964 (co-animator with Pierre L'Amare)
Andrew Britt at Shoal Bay, 1967 (director)
Billy Crane Moves Away, 1967 (director)
Brian Earle on Merchants and Welfare, 1967 (director)
The Children of Fogo Island, 1967 (director)
Citizens Discussions, 1967 (director)
Dan Roberts on Fishing, 1967 (director)
Discussion on Welfare, 1967 (director)
Fishermen's Meeting, 1967 (director)
Fogo Expatriates, 1967 (director)
The Fogo Island Improvement Committee, 1967 (director)
The Founding of the Co-operatives, 1967 (director)
Jim Decker Builds a Longliner, 1967 (director)
Jim Decker's Party, 1967 (director)
Joe Kinsella on Education, 1967 (director)
McGraths at Home and Fishing, 1967 (director)
The Mercer Family, 1967 (director)
The Merchant and the Teacher, 1967 (director)
Some Problems of Fogo, 1967 (director)
The Songs of Chris Cobb, 1967 (director)
The Story of the Up Top, 1967 (director)
Thoughts on Fogo and Norway, 1967 (director)
Tom Best on Co-operatives, 1967 (director)
Two Cabinet Ministers, 1967 (director)
A Wedding Party, 1967 (director)
William Wells Talks About It, 1967 (director)
A Woman's Place, 1967 (director)
Introduction to Fogo Island, 1968 (director)
The Winds of Fogo, 1969 (director)
Of Many People, 1970 (co-editor with John Spotton, Malca Gillson)
Cell 16, 1971 (producer)
God Help the Man Who Would Part with His Land, 1971 (producer)
I Don't Think It's Meant for Us..., 1971 (producer)
Nell and Fred, 1971 (producer)
The Sea, 1971 (producer)
Time Piece, 1971 (producer)
Here is Canada, 1972 (producer)
A Memo from Fogo, 1972 (producer)
The Question of Television Violence, 1972 (producer)
That Gang of Hoodlums?, 1972 (producer)
When I Go.. . That's It!, 1972 (co-director with Dennis Sawyer, George C. Stoney, Rin Alexander; producer)
Child series, Part 1-4, 1973-1974 (producer)
Coming Home, 1973 (producer)
Do Your Thing, 1973 (director in collaboration)
The Greenlanders, 1973 (producer)
Kainai, 1973 (producer)
The Man Who Can't Stop, 1973 (producer)
Rock-a-bye, 1973 (producer)
Sub-Igloo, 1973 (producer)
Another Side of the Forest, 1974 (producer)
Bate's Car: Sweet as a Nut, 1974 (producer)
The Boat That Ian Built, 1974 (producer)
Cree Hunters of Mistassini, 1974 (producer)
Freshwater World, 1974 (producer)
In Praise of Hands, 1974 (producer)
In Search of the Bowhead Whale, 1974 (producer)
King of the Hill, 1974 (director)
Our Land is Our Life, 1974 (producer)
The New Alchemists, 1974 (producer)
Running Time, 1974 (producer)
Sananguagat: Inuit Masterworks, 1974 (producer)
Sisters of the Space Age, 1974 (producer)
Thoughts on the Future with George McRobie, 1974 (producer)
Waiting for Fidel, 1974 (producer)
Alberta Girls, 1975 (producer)
Arctic IV, 1975 (producer)
Bill Loosely's Heat Pump, 1975 (producer)
Los Canadienses, 1975 (producer)
Descent/La descente, 1975 (producer)
Earthware/La terre cuite, 1975 (producer)
First Born/Premier-né, 1975 (producer)
The Forest Watchers, 1975 (producer)
Here is Canada, 1975 (producer)
Hinchinbrook Diary, 1975 (producer)
I Am an Old Tree, 1975 (producer)
In All Seasons, 1975 (producer)
Jack Rabbit, 1975 (producer)
The Lady and the Owl, 1975 (producer)
Lumsden, 1975 (producer)
Metal Workers/Arisans des métaux, 1975 (producer)
Musicanada, 1975 (producer)
New Romance (Aspects of Sexuality and Sexual Roles), 1975 (producer)
Niagara for Sale, 1975 (producer)
Operation G.A.T.E., 1975 (producer)
Operation High Test, 1975 (producer)
Vietnam Recall, 1975 (producer)
The Canadian Air Connection, 1976 (producer)
Christ Is Risen, 1976 (producer)
Coaches, 1976 (producer)
First Steps, 1976 (producer)
The Great Clean-up, 1976 (producer)
The Great White Bird, 1976 (producer)
Have I Ever Lied to You Before, 1976 (producer)
Land: A New Priority, 1976 (producer)
Log House/Cabane de rondins, 1976 (producer)
The Mad Canadian, 1976 (producer)
No Way They Want to Slow Down, 1976 (producer)
Potatoes, 1976 (producer)
A Sense of Humus, 1976 (producer)
A Sense of Place, 1976 (producer)
The Sword of the Lord, 1976 (producer)
Threads/De fil en fil, 1976 (producer)
Waterloo Farmers, 1976 (producer)
Wax and Wool/Cire et laine, 1976 (producer)
We Can't Stand Still Can We?, 1976 (producer)
The Whales Are Waiting, 1976 (producer)
Forest Under Siege, 1977 (producer)
Little Big Top, 1977 (producer)
Path of the Paddle series, 1977 (producer; 4 episodes)
River (Planet Earth), 1977 (producer)
You're Eating For Two, 1977 (producer)
The Biosphere, 1979 (producer)
In the Labyrinth, 1979 (co-director with Hugh O'Connor, Roman Kroitor)
A Pinto for the Prince, 1979 (co-director with John Spotton)
Atmos, 1980 (director)
Standing Alone, 1982 (director)
The Contour Connection, 1983 (director)
Starlife, 1983 (producer)
Starbreakers, 1984 (co-cinematographer with David De Volpi)
Transitions, 1986 (co-director with Tony Ianzelo; writer)
Emergency/Urgence, 1988 (co-director with Tony Ianzelo; writer)
Momentum, 1992 (co-director with Tony Ianzelo)
Making Momentum, 1996 (co-director with Tony Ianzelo)
Path of the Paddle series, 1996 (producer, two episodes)
Louisbourg Under Siege, 1997 (co-cinematographer with Kent Nason, Ernest McNabb, Tony Ianzelo)
Air - Climate, 2000 (researcher)
Fire - Energy, 2000 (researcher)
Land - Territory and Resources, 2000 (researcher)
Life - People, Fauna and Flora, 2000 (researcher)
Moving Pictures, 2000 (director; co-writer with Boyce Richardson; narrator)
Postcards From Canada, 2000 (researcher)
Water - Reserves and Networks, 2000 (researcher)