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GSTA 2001: Big Movie Cannes

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Written by: Ryan Kresser
Date: Oct 1, 2001

Impressions of the 2001 GSTA Big Movie convention.

  

Category: Columns

Just eight days after the catastrophic events in New York and Washington DC, the annual Giant Screen Theater Association conference for 2001 began in Chicago, as planned. A private, mid-conference IMAX Corporation party scheduled for the top of the Sears Tower was cancelled, but otherwise, to the extent it was possible, it was business as usual at this year's "Big Movie Cannes".

Knowing they would have no other way to see this year’s new crop of films on the giant screen and rub shoulders with everyone in the industry in one place, 800 or so of the roughly 1000 delegates scheduled to attend actually showed up! A brave bunch – at the very least, dedicated. In memory of the tragedy, red, white and blue ribbons were handed out at the opening gala, and worn by many of the attendees throughout, regardless of their national origin.

As far as members of the films’ production teams went, it wasn’t surprising they weren’t afraid to get on planes. Traveling to the ends of the earth, up the highest mountains, into the deepest caves, and down to the depths of the oceans to bring back the most amazing IMAX vistas possible, they face the very real risk of losing their lives, all the time. Indeed, several Big Movie directors of photography have been killed over the years, attempting to get amazing shots.

Speaking of truly daring filmmakers (i.e. those who take physical as well as artistic risks), I’d like to digress one moment and share one of my favorite personal experiences from this year’s conference: listening to Cinematographer Sean Casey describe his dream to build a 10,000 pound armored vehicle that can DRIVE INTO A TORNADO. Sean plans to sit inside the vehicle as they penetrate the twister, and get the greatest shot of a tornado ever captured - with a Big Movie camera, no less! When I told him he was crazy, he just smirked. Of course, Sean and Graphic Films have already captured an erupting volcano and a pretty darn impressive tornado from not too far away, for their upcoming Big Movie "Natural Disasters: Forces of Nature". I guess successive generations always have to push the boundaries: Sean’s dad, 4-time Academy Award-nominated Big Movie director George Casey, has filmed many volcanoes for ERUPTION OF MT. ST. HELENS and RING OF FIRE, as well as polar bears for ALASKA: SPIRIT OF THE WILD and Great White Sharks for the classic SEARCH FOR THE GREAT SHARKS.

Anyway, aside from catching up with just about everyone in the industry, including a very colorful, INTERNATIONAL cast of both theater professionals and producer/distributor/production services types, the best thing about the GSTA Conferences is of course the MOVIES! BIG MOVIES, to be exact.

After the recent tragedy, with tension still running high at the conference (especially amidst the New York contingent), everyone was ready to lose themselves in a few great 40-minute Giant Screen escapes. Standout films like THE HUMAN BODY and OCEAN MEN brought the rush of the greatest Big Movie experiences home, and made me remember how powerful the medium really is – taking me to amazing places I’ll definitely never go, and immersing me so I felt like I was really there. At the same time, they pushed the medium subtly in new directions by giving the audience all the best visuals and sound quality they’ve come to expect from Big Movies, while adding new and different stories told with great artistry.

Another good sign was the always interesting "Films-In-Progress" session, which had everyone buzzing about what looked to be the best new crop of Big Movies in years – possibly ever.

During this special session, theater operators (and film producers) are shown 3-minute clips of films in production, presented by the films’ distributors. (BMZ Reviewer Herb Lash is working on an overview article that will tell you a bit about all these films, and link to their BMZ film pages.) For now, suffice it to say that some of this year’s footage had this slightly jaded, "seen-it-all", insider audience cheering, and I was definitely reminded in no uncertain terms that this really is the most incredible film medium in the world!

The clip from IMAX Corporation’s upcoming "Space Station 3D" contained quite possibly THE MOST INSPIRING FOOTAGE I’VE EVER SEEN, OF ANY KIND! It’s a thousand times better than any special effects I can imagine, and it’s 100% real. There are shots of astronauts on space walks, building the international space station, that make you feel like you’re hanging off a spaceship miles above the earth, in danger of getting swept off into space! And the zero-gravity stuff was mind-blowing, with people pushing several- hundred pound objects to each other so they floated easily through hallways, and even up through open hatches.

The biggest surprise – and a definite crowd-pleaser even for this aforementioned jaded bunch – was the clip from the animated, children’s Christmas story SANTA VS. THE SNOWMAN. For those not familiar with this mainstream Hollywood property, it’s not your father’s Christmas story! Ultimately sweet, the film incorporates the zany sense of humor and mischief embodied by its director, Steve Oedekerk, most famous for directing both ACE VENTURA films starring Jim Carrey (Oedekerk is currently working on a wacky, 35mm feature film called KUNG PAO: ENTER THE FISH). Meticulously enhanced and blown up digitally to full IMAX size, the dynamic, 3-D animation in SANTA VS. THE SNOWMAN is stunning, and a blast to watch. As a bonus, the film has something still somewhat new to Big Movies: a hilarious sense of fun. The clip we saw included a parody of the snow-walker scene in Empire Strikes Back, with flying reindeer leading a Luke Skywalker-esque attack on some clumsy but intimidating invaders. The whole thing was exciting to me because I think parents will enjoy it almost as much as kids – and it will bring a new level of entertainment value to commercial Big Movie theaters.

(Speaking of new levels of entertainment value, it doesn’t hurt that Disney is planning to release BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to Big Movie theaters in January 2002, with YOUNG BLACK STALLION, ULTIMATE X, about the X-Games, and LION KING to follow in the next couple of years. LION KING was announced during GSTA, when a special clip was shown to theater delegates at another venue, an hour away.)

On September 25th, with the conference winding down after five days of non-stop schmoozing, it was time for us to return home. Weary and tired, the BMZ contingent arrived at O’Hare Airport to find the terminal we were trying to access blocked by ten police cars. "You have to go around," the cops said without explanation. Great, we thought – there’s a terrorist scare right in our terminal!

Luckily, it turned out to be normal security for Bill Clinton, who was passing through, and had stopped to comment to the media. Herb Lash went over to meet him, and shook his hand. As we got on the plane, we still felt like the world, and flying, seemed a bit more dangerous than before. But Herb’s handshake reminded us that, God willing, life – and Big Movies – will go on.

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