Ottawa artist captures eerie Cold War mood with stop-motion film

Artist-in-residence Pixie Cram used only items from the Diefenbunker to create Emergency Broadcast, a short film about life during the Cold War.

As the Diefenbunker's artist in residence, Pixie Cram had the run of the underground museum

Pixie Cram's stop-motion film, Emergency Broadcast, uses vintage items from the Diefenbuker to create an eerie picture of Cold War-era life. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Seven minutes, 5,000 frames and a lot of imagination.

That's what it took for Ottawa filmmaker Pixie Cram to transform the Diefunbunker Museum into a whimsical representation of life in Cold War-era Canada in her new short film, Emergency Broadcast.

As the museum's artist in residence, Cram was given free rein of the bunker, which was built as an escape for government and military leaders in the event that Canada came under nuclear attack.

"I thought I was going to make a film that was about the Diefenbunker and, really, the bureaucracy going on," Cram told Alan Neal on CBC's All in a Day.

"It became about more than just the bunker."

Film required 'obsessive perfectionist'

The stop-motion film has an eerie quality to it, with each frame meticulously staged to reveal objects including a typewriter, a uniform and other vintage equipment moving fluidly about the room.
The film features a real emergency broadcast recorded — but never used — by the CBC. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The filmmaking process, says Cram, was challenging and required "an obsessive perfectionist element."

"Sometimes things will move," she described. "We'll accidentally move the object or the camera will get jostled and we'd have to kind of reset everything to not give away the illusion."

Wedded with archival audio from the 1972 Emergency Radio Broadcast recorded — but never used — by CBC, the resulting film will take viewers back in time, says Thomas Littlewood, the Diefenbunker's curator of learning.

"We're really pleased with the result," he said. "I think it really brings it to life. I think it allows, literally, the bunker to move the way it might have moved in an emergency."

The film premiered last week and is now available for viewing at the Diefenbunker Museum in Carp.