'XL Outer Worlds' project gears up for the debut of five exceptional films

Five filmmakers are working feverishly this spring to contribute to an extravaganza debuting next month. Led by York’s Janine Marchessault, together with the grandson of the man who invented IMAX, the 'XL Outer Worlds' project promises to be an unforgettable, larger-than-life experience.

Janine Marchessault

Janine Marchessault

Next month will bear witness to the debut of a unique and compelling project led by cinema and media arts Professor Janine Marchessault. She joined forces with True Frame Productions’ Christian Kroitor (grandson of IMAX inventor Roman Kroitor) to produce XL Outer Worlds.

“Five leading Canadian media artists will create the new films in a cinematic genre typical of IMAX films: the larger-than-life landscape that forms an outer world,” Marchessault said. “This is a highly collaborative project from the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, funded by the Canada Council (for the Arts). It brings together this Faculty at York, the Public Access Collective, Concordia University and True Frame Productions,” she added.

The project will be showcased in a variety of venues over eight months:

  • It will premiere at the Images Festival in Toronto (April 18), in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the invention of IMAX. This festival showcases artistic excellence in contemporary moving image culture.
  • Next, it will show at the Toronto Biennial of Art, Sept. 21 to Dec. 21, which seeks to connect the city’s communities around art and culture. Here, the films will play at the Cinesphere.
  •  After the Biennial, the XL Outer Worlds program will tour the first IMAX cinemas across Canada in Victoria, Sudbury, Edmonton and Montreal.

A Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization (2003-13), Marchessault is the ideal academic to bring this ambitious show together. She was the co-founder of Future Cinema Lab and the inaugural director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology Research at York University. In 2012, she was awarded a prestigious Trudeau Fellowship to pursue her curatorial and public art research around the problem of sustainable development. She has (co)curated numerous large-scale public art exhibitions in Toronto and beyond, including Museum for the End of the World (2012) and Land|Slide, Possible Futures (2013). Land|Slide was named one of the best exhibitions in Canada in 2013 by Canadian Art magazine.

A glimpse at the five high-profile filmmakers

Oliver Husain (left) and a screen capture from Garden of the Legend of the Golden Snail (right)

Oliver Husain will contribute to the XL Outer Worlds project with a film called Garden of the Legend of the Golden Snail, which tells that story of an elderly woman who discovers a beautiful snail that provides food for the family. The animal transforms into a princess who again transforms, this time into a large IMAX theatre. Husain’s compelling projects often start with a fragment of history or a personal encounter. He uses a wide range of cinematic languages, including dance and puppetry, to engage viewers. 

Lisa Jackson (left), Lichen shoot (middle) and a screen capture from Lichen (right)

Genie Award-winning filmmaker and CBC documentarian Lisa Jackson will contribute a highly original piece called Lichen. Her film will take a penetrating look at this distinctive life form, which can survive in a variety of extreme environments, including outer space, and pose the question: what can we learn from lichen? Jackson’s work often bridges into different genres hitherto confined to separate silos – the documentary, animation, virtual reality and even musicals.

Left to right: Kelly Richardson (credit: Colin Davison) and Richardson’s contribution to exhibition XL Outer Worlds

Representing a new generation of artists working with digital technologies to create hyper-real, highly charged landscapes, Kelly Richardson will contribute to this project with a film that considers “generational amnesia” and the remnants of the distant past – specifically, the centuries-old trees on Vancouver Island. Over three quarters of the old-growth trees on this island have been logged. In XL Outer Worlds, Richardson will be transforming an area of threatened old growth into an imagined future landscape.

Left to right: Michael Snow (credit: Craig Boyko © Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced with permission), Janine Marchessault chatting with Michael Snow and an image from Snow’s shoot for XL Outer Worlds

Without a doubt, the most seasoned of the filmmakers in XL Outer Worlds is esteemed artist Michael Snow, considered to be one of Canada’s most influential filmmakers. (His most well-known artworks are Walking Woman, 1961, and the Toronto Eaton Centre’s permanent installation Flightstop,1979, depicting Canada geese in flight.) Snow’s films of the 1960 and 1970s were groundbreaking. For XL Outer Worlds, he is considering creating a work that elaborates on the methods he used in his avant-garde 1971 film La Région Centrale, which was built around constant spherical motions. He hopes to blend some of the original, landscape-based patterns with new ones, inspired by IMAX’s capacity, which reference cityscapes.

Leila Sujir (left) and a screen capture from Forest (right)

Leila Sujir, Chair of the Studio Arts Department in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University, will be participating in this project with her film titled Forest. Her subject will be the Walbran, an area on Vancouver Island that is scheduled for clear-cut logging by Teal Jones, the largest privately held forest products company on British Columbia’s coast. Over the past decade, Sujir has been experimenting with stereoscopic 3D video, extending the viewer into the space of the moving image.

Potential for an international audience

Looking to the future, Marchessault sees the potential for a global audience for this exciting project. There is already interest in an international tour. Stay tuned.

Marchessault also won a $2-million partnership grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. This important project seeks to redress the unevenness of Canadian preservation efforts thus far by emphasizing Canada’s most vulnerable moving image heritage – women’s media, Indigenous media arts, films and media from the LGBTQI+ community and archives from Canada’s immigrant communities.

To learn more about the XL Outer Worlds Project, visit the website. To learn more about Marchessault, visit her website.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch, watch the York Research Impact Story and see the snapshot infographic.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca