Most IMAX and 3-D theaters have gone Hollywood in recent years, but there is still a place for the educational films that put IMAX on the map.
Touted as the ultimate movie experience, the gigantic-screen IMAX was originally popular among educational institutions and kids on elementary school field trips or for people who wanted to learn about topics such as dolphins and dinosaurs.
In recent years, however, according to Clark Planetarium director Seth Jarvis, more Hollywood filmmakers are formatting movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” for IMAX and 3-D screens, resulting in fewer documentaries and smaller audiences for educational films.
“Only as recently as 10 years ago, IMAX films were exclusively science and nature documentaries,” Jarvis said. “Then IMAX changed its business model.”
Regardless of whether a movie is a Hollywood blockbuster or a documentary about outer space, if it’s in IMAX 3-D, it sells, Jarvis said. Easily half of the planetarium’s annual 400,000 visitors attend an IMAX film.
“IMAX is one of the most recognized brand names in the world. When we installed the theater not quite 10 years ago, it was a means to support the planetarium,” Jarvis said. “By using an IMAX theater, we satisfy our educational mandate and make money to the maximum degree possible. The public loves to learn about pandas, fish, volcanoes and earthquakes.”
And hopefully for the planetarium, the public will also love learning about polar bears.
As part of an education campaign by One World One Ocean, a nonprofit charity devoted to science education through filmmaking, IMAX theaters are releasing a new documentary adventure titled “To The Arctic 3D” on April 20. The film is co-produced by Warner Bros., MacGillivray Freeman Films and IMAX Corp., in an effort to inspire viewers to protect the ocean.
“To The Arctic 3D,” narrated by Meryl Streep with music by Paul McCartney, is the first film presentation in a series to be released over the next five years. Clark Planetarium is the only IMAX theater in Utah to carry the film, which describes how warmer temperatures are melting the Arctic and making life more difficult for animals that depend on ice to survive.
“‘To The Arctic 3D’ is an emotionally powerful film about a polar bear family trying to adapt to a changing Arctic wilderness, and this educational campaign will amplify the impact of the film,” said Greg MacGillivray, the film’s director and the chairman of the One World One Ocean Foundation. “With our educational lobby display, online videos and other educational materials, we want viewers to rediscover the unique importance of the Arctic to the well-being of the planet and get energized about protecting it as one of the last great wildernesses on earth.”
Shaun MacGillivray, who produced the film, hopes “To the Arctic” inspires people to care more about the environment.
“One World One Ocean is all about inspiring people to care about and protect ocean environments; with this educational campaign released in tandem with the film, we hope to highlight the significance of the Arctic as a critical marine environment that deserves our attention and protection.”
Jarvis called MacGillivray Freeman “the granddaddy of independent IMAX film companies.
“They have an absolutely golden reputation for making the best quality science and IMAX science and nature documentaries,” Jarvis said. “A MacGillivray Freeman film means it’s National Geographic high quality, so we’re really excited.”
With MacGillivray Freeman creating documentaries and educational institutions supporting IMAX films, Jarvis believes educational films will continue to resonate with audiences.
“Institutional IMAX theaters at major aquariums, natural history museums and even some zoos still represent the bulk of IMAX theaters in the country,” Jarvis said. “But even as demographics and business models change, it will be necessary for IMAX theaters to play documentaries during the day and then switch personalities at night and go Hollywood. The public still wants to learn.”
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