Filmmaker Graeme Ferguson, who helped create Imax, dies at 91


Graeme Ferguson, a Canadian documentarian who created IMAX, the captivating cinema experience that immerses audiences in films, and was the company’s main creative force for years, died on May 8 at his home in Lake of Bays, Ontario. He was 91 years old.

His son, Monroe Ferguson, said the cause was cancer.

In the 1960s, Mr. Ferguson was making a name for himself as a youth cinematographer Known for working in the Cinema Verit genre, and was asked to direct a documentary about the Arctic and Antarctic. Expo 67, a world fair in Montreal. He traveled for a year to film the film, which also included footage of Inuit life and the aurora borealis.

Documentary film, “polar life, was screened with an immersive theater configuration: audiences were seated at a rotating turntable as the film played on a panorama of 11 fixed screens. Experience was a hit. Another film at Expo 67 that used a similar number of screens,”in the maze, ” was directed by roman crouter, who was Mr. Ferguson’s brother-in-law. Soon, both men had a vision.

“We asked each other, wouldn’t it be better to have or have a single, large-format projector filling a big screen?” Mr. Ferguson told take one, a Canadian film magazine, in 1997. “Obviously the next step was to have a bigger film format, bigger than anything ever done.”

“We said, ‘Let’s invent this new medium,'” he continued.

But despite Imax’s brilliant technology, Mr. Ferguson struggled for decades to get investors to adopt his approach. In a tale of innovation, setbacks and adversity, his company nearly multiplied and it took years for IMAX to be fully realized into the cinematic marvel it is today.

“People kept telling us that nobody would sit still for 90 minutes and watch an IMAX movie,” Mr Ferguson told Take One. “We were told that endless.”

Mr. Ferguson had already asked Robert Kerro, a high school friend who had become a successful businessman, to be his partner, and he next enlisted William Shaw, a high school friend who had become an engineer, to help understand Imax’s technology. He soon developed prototypes for the cameras and large-format projectors needed to film and screen IMAX films.

the group was curious To debut his technology at the 1970 Osaka Expo, he therefore made an offer to Fuji Bank for funding. they has shown Representatives of the Japanese bank are full of hardworking employees at their Imax offices in New York and Montreal. Impressed by what he saw, Fuji Bank signed on to the project.

What the representatives did not know was that the New York office they visited was Mr. Ferguson’s freelance studio and that the Montreal headquarters they visited were production rooms Mr. Kroeter had rented a few days earlier.

The first Imax film, “tiger child, but premiered Expo 70 Not long after in Osaka. Although it was successful, the company continued to struggle with financing.

Back in Toronto, Mr. Ferguson heard that there was a new amusement park called Ontario Place Was planning to build a big screen theatre. He approached his team with his pitch and they agreed to buy an IMAX projector. In 1971, Ontario Place began screening.Superior’s Answer, an Imax documentary directed by Mr. Ferguson about the wilderness of northern Ontario. The venue becomes Imax’s first permanent The model for the theater and the Imax cinema of the future.

IMAX in the 1970s pushed audiences into unexpected areas: “circus worldThere was a documentary about the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum and Bailey circus; “to fly!“described the wonders of flight; and”sea“Was about life under water.

In the 1980s, Mr. Ferguson approached NASA with the idea of ​​sending astronauts into space by training astronauts to use IMAX cameras on spacecraft. The collaboration resulted in several successful documentaries that firmly established the IMAX brand.

Mr. Ferguson and his fellow founders sold the company in 1994, when they were in their 60s, to two American businessmen, Richard Gelfond and Bradley Wexler, who Received Took Imax and Brands in a Leveraged Buyout public. In a Take One interview, Mr. Ferguson acknowledged his surprise how challenging it was to find a buyer, despite the company’s established success.

“The reaction time to anything new is always longer than the inventor imagined,” he said. “You’d think you’d have built a better mousetrap and the world would come to your door the next morning, but they’d come to your door after about five years. That’s really how the world works.”

Mr. Ferguson remained with the company after Imax was sold. He worked as a consultant and produced films like “L5: First City in Space“(1996),”Hubble 3-D“(2010) and”a beautiful planet(2016), narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.

Evan Graeme Ferguson was born in Toronto on October 7, 1929, and grew up in nearby Galt. His father, Frank, was an English teacher. His mother, Grace (Warner) Ferguson, was an elementary school teacher. his parents gave him brownie Camera when he was 7 years old and he used it to take pictures of steamships on Lake Roseau.

In 1948, he enrolled in University of Toronto To study political science and economics. avant-garde filmmaker Maya Darren One semester he taught a workshop at the university and became his lighting assistant. She encouraged him to leave economics and make films instead.

In the 1960s, Mr. Ferguson worked as a cameraman in New York and collaborated with filmmakers associated with the Cinema Verité movement, such as DA Pennebaker and Albert Maysles. he worked for Adolphus Macasso and shot footage for an Oscar-nominated documentary called “”roofs of new york”(1961).

He married Betty Ramsour in 1959 and had two children, Monroe and Allison; They got divorced in 1974. In 1982, he married Phyllis Wilson, a filmmaker who became his creative collaborator and produced several Imax films with him. He died in March.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Ferguson is survived by two sisters, Janet Kroeter and Mary Hopper; a brother, Bill Ferguson; four grandchildren; And a great-grandson.

In the late ’60s, Mr. Ferguson settled with his wife in a spacious stone cottage on the Lake of Bays, which he had bought after the sale of Imax. Mr. Kerr and Mr. Shaw also lived in lakeside houses and the men often worked together on their boats. After Mr. Kroeter’s death in 2012, Mr. Ferguson became the last surviving Imax founder.

During the pandemic, Mr Ferguson read bleak reports about the state of Hollywood and changes in viewing habits, with video streaming luring audiences from cinemas. But he was not worried about Imax’s fate.

“He was absolutely convinced that it would flourish, even if the rest of the exhibition industry was going to do very badly,” said his son, “because he believed that if you were going to leave your house, You too can go see something amazing.”

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