Society

WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Q&A with RESCUE 3D director Stephen Low

By Kathleen Black

The latest film from Canadian IMAX director Stephen Low, RESCUE 3D uses captivating images to give viewers a glimpse into the life and work of rescue workers. The 45-minute film begins by following teams from the Canadian Navy, U.S. Army, and volunteer civilian groups as they train for rescue missions. That training is vital when they answer to a global call for help after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

RESCUE 3D opens Friday, June 17 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. $11, seniors and students $9, children 3 to 12 $7, families $35. www.civilization.ca/imax

Some of the footage of the disaster was hard to watch, and I can imagine it being even harder to see in person. How are you coping with some of the things you witnessed?
It was difficult, you know, it’s a permanent thing. Somebody said once, “be careful what you put in your mind, because it’s there forever,” and that’s true of a situation like that. There were a lot of things that were too horrible to film, and to even talk about. But on the other hand, I found the response very moving. All the energy, money, the resources, and the convoys, and all the young people loading and unloading these planes. When we got back from our first night in Haiti, we got into the Dominican where Canadian C17s were coming in and it was very inspiring because it’s all these young people, and they left the engines hot, and they offloaded very fast, then they’d turn around and leave and another one would come in. Everyone was working really hard and it’s really inspiring to see that.

I understand that you started filming with the military, and the earthquake in Haiti entered the project as more of a coincidence. How did that come about? Was it difficult to get access to the disaster zone?
We knew what the film was about — it was about humanitarian relief efforts from the military and also non-government. But we couldn’t get in to any disasters effectively, because we require so much heavy equipment. And for getting permission, it’s not like sneaking in with a camera in your pocket, which is what the press does nowadays in China and India. We had tried to get in all over the world to different places, because there are disasters constantly. But Haiti came along and essentially the government was non-existent, so it was easy on one level to just go. On another level, of course, there’s no infrastructure, so that’s difficult.

In terms of choosing locations to film, you seem to really follow your intuition. What is it that makes you trust your instincts so strongly?
Documentary people tend to go in with their finger on the trigger, because you don’t know if you’re going to get this again. I know that Hollywood people rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, but that’s no good in documentaries, because the light may change, the current situation changes. You go back to do it and it’s not there anymore. So it’s a different philosophy. On the one hand, it’s scary, because you’re using $6,000 of film every three minutes, and you’ve got to try to improvise at the same time.

Is there something specific that attracts you to making 3D films in large format?
Oh yeah, the quality of IMAX is so incredible; it’s really the ultimate form of filmmaking. 3D is complicated. Life used to be simpler with 2D, but we also developed 3D. My dad did the first IMAX 3D and I did the second , so we kind of developed the techniques.

How did it help, having your father being in the film industry and growing up around all that?
Well it helped an enormous amount to have grown up with IMAX, and my dad, who was with the National Film Board [of Canada], was always experimenting. So even as a little kid, you could see the patience required of a filmmaker, and you got used to the idea that this was going to be difficult to do. IMAX has always been difficult – you need great light, you’ve got incredibly heavy cameras. And then 3D of course is vastly more complicated. It’s simpler now; the cameras are smaller than they used to be. This camera [used for Rescue 3D] is only 80 pounds, compared to 300 pounds, so it’s getting a little bit easier. But 3D is really tough, especially in a documentary environment like Haiti.

Is there anything you hope people take home with them after watching the film?
I think the feeling I had was that with all the [devastation] in Haiti, there was an extraordinary relief effort. Although their problems are not solved by any means, it was great to see. As [Commander] Peter [Crain] says in the film, it’s kind of the opposite of war; it’s a peaceful mobilization on a huge scale. It was very moving, and I wanted to bring that to everybody that contributes – every taxpayer in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and around the world, contributes to these things. I wanted to bring that visually to people so they can see the need, and the response, and that it’s worth it.