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Roman Kroitor, developer of Imax, dies

Canadian was also key figure in cinema verite

Roman Kroitor, who helped develop the Canada-spawned documentary genre of direct cinema — similar to cinema verite — and developed the Imax giantscreen format at the National Film Board’s Montreal studio, died from a heart attack in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal on Sunday, Sept. 16. He was 85.

“Roman Kroitor was a remarkable man who has made out-sized contributions to cinema as a filmmaker, producer and creative and technical innovator. He was a legend whose relentless pace of inventiveness continued throughout a long and productive career,” said Tom Perlmutter, government film commissioner and NFB chairman.

Interestingly, Kroitor also played a role in the creation of the “Star Wars” concept of 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.

Kroitor was a key figure 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 acclaimed NFB documentaries 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 1964 feature “Nobody Waved Goodbye.”

Kroitor co-directed with Colin Low and Hugh O’Connor the groundbreaking multiscreen project “In the Labyrinth,” an immersive cinema experience that caused a sensation at Expo 67 in Montreal. Kroitor left the NFB to further develop the process he helped pioneer with “In the Labyrinth” in the private sector, co-founding Multi-Screen Corp.

After co-inventing the single-projector giantscreen Imax film system, he formed Imax Corp.

The first Imax film was 1970’s “Tiger Child,” made for the Osaka world’s fair. In the following years Kroitor, Imax and the NFB achieved further breakthroughs with the first Imax 3D film, “Transitions,” and the first Imax HD film, “Momentum.”

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.”

More recently, Kroitor created Imax’s hand-drawn 3D stereoscopic animation technique, Sandde.

Kroitor was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. He graduated from the U. of Manitoba, where he studied philosophy and psychology, and then began work at the NFB, first as a production assistant. He directed his first film, “Rescue Party,” in 1949.

He is survived by his wife, Janet; four daughters; and a son.

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