The Masters Series: Colin Low


A few weeks ago, I looked at the films of Donald Brittain, a filmmaker known for his incredible narration and love of biographies. Today, we’re looking at the work of Colin Low (1926 – 2016), one of the pillars of the NFB; a man whose career included work on more than 200 productions, spanning a 60-year career.

Low’s films range from social justice experiments to animation to innovation to poetic observation. He had a hand in so many different genres during his career that he has left an indelible mark on the institution.

The Children of Fogo Island

Right off the bat I’m starting with a cheat. I’m chosen this film because it’s absolutely beautiful, but I’m using it to (re)introduce you to the Fogo Island Series (1967-1968). In this series, Low visits Fogo Island and works with the residents, on camera, to bring about social change. Think Challenge for Change.

The Children of Fogo Island, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada


This film is pure poetry in motion. Low uses his camera to capture the beauty and grace of a cowboy and his horses. At a time when extensive narration was in vogue, Low relied on gorgeous landscapes, majestic beasts, and gentle guitar strumming to tell his story instead. And it all fit together perfectly, giving us a sense of the true West.

Corral, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The Romance of Transportation in Canada

Early in his career, Low took on the art of animation with great gusto. This film was made during the McLaren era, where innovation and experimentation were king. But this film takes a standard form (“industrial” animation) and pokes gentle fun at it while offering up an informative look at the history of how we get around. It was also nominated for an Oscar in 1953.

The Romance of Transportation in Canada, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

In the Labyrinth

This film is highly regarded as an early predecessor to IMAX, and indeed co-director Roman Kroiter was one of the founders of Multi-Screen Corporation, birthplace of the IMAX film. Low, Kroiter, and Hugh O’Connor got together to produce this multi-camera, multi-screen film for the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67 with the intention of showing how life is lived by people around the world.

In the Labyrinth, Roman Kroitor, Colin Low & Hugh O'Connor, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Moving Pictures

And now for something completely different… Towards the tail end of Low’s career, he put together this film, which presents his collection of war etchings and woodcuts. It’s an intricate doc that uses the technology of the day to provide stunning close ups and remarkable detail, while simultaneously tracing Low’s interest in war and technology.

Moving Pictures, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada