They formed a small company called Multi-Screen Corporation (later IMAX) with Robert Kerr, Ferguson’s high school pal from Galt, Ont., and at the time that city’s mayor and the owner of a printing company. Kerr, who died in 2010, supplied the financial acumen and the credibility as the owner of a successful company. Needing technical expertise, they enlisted another high school crony from Galt, engineer Bill Shaw, as a partner the next year. Shaw, who died in 2002, developed the projection system and camera.
Meanwhile, Fuji, wowed by In the Labyrinth, had asked Kroitor to make a film for its pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. Kroitor invited Ferguson and Kerr to join him as producers on Donald Brittain’s Tiger Child, which became the first IMAX film.
“Roman was as much an inventor as a filmmaker,” said Ferguson, the only surviving member of the original IMAX team. “He was always interested in doing something new. He never had a rear-view mirror.” That was true until the end of his life. Kroitor was involved in several IMAX breakthroughs including 3-Dome and SANDDE, a hand-held wand for stereoscopic animation.
After heading up the drama department of the NFB in the 1970s, Kroitor left to make more IMAX films, including Hail Columbia, about the maiden voyage of the first space shuttle, and Rolling Stones: At the Max, the first IMAX feature film. Reviewing At the Max in 1991, the late Globe film critic Jay Scott described it as “an embarrassment of dazzlingly variegated unique riches.” As producer, Kroitor hadn’t got much satisfaction from making the film, later telling a reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press that it represented “one of the low points” of his career because he had “no interest” in the Rolling Stones and found Mick Jagger difficult. “I had the feeling he’d been swallowed by his own myth.”
Kubrick was far from the only filmmaker to borrow from Kroitor. Star Wars director George Lucas first heard about “the force” in a conversation between Kroitor and Warren McCulloch, an artificial intelligence guru, in 21-87, a 1963 collage film made by the NFB’s Arthur Lipsett. Disagreeing with McCulloch’s assertion that humans are nothing more than highly complex machines, Kroitor argued,: “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”
He was not a religious man, but his large and humane spirit was the force that imbued all of his projects, both the films he made himself and those he nurtured for others.
Roman Boghdan Kroitor was born in Yorkton, Sask., on Dec. 12, 1926. His father, Peter, a teacher who had emigrated from Ukraine, died when Roman was four or five. His smart, determined and resourceful mother, Tatiana (nee Shewchuk) taught in one-room schools to support her family, moving him and his older sister from one community to another across the Prairies before settling in Winnipeg when he was of high school age.
The film board, which was such a continuing presence in his life, was also a matchmaking catalyst. Through his NFB friends, he met his wife, Janet (Ferguson’s sister), in Ottawa, where she was working at the National Design Centre. They were married in December, 1955, and had five children, a son and four daughters, and nine grandchildren.
Editor's Note: Wolf Koenig was not the cameraman on the film Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman, which was directed by Roman Boghdan Kroitor. Incorrect information appeared in the original print version and an earlier online version of this article. This online version has been corrected.