Canada 150 'dome' film seeking venues after national tour cancelled

The plan was for an experimental, 20-minute film about Canada's 150th birthday to be shown across Canada in a touring "dome village." But the money for the tour dried up and so organizers are looking to planetariums and other existing venues so the $10.5-million film can be seen by the Canadians who paid for it.

Ontario is only province to sign on for tour of $10.5-million sesquicentennial film showcasing Canada

Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly announces funding in Iqaluit to celebrate Canada's 150 birthday. A Canada 150 film project she has backed is looking for venues after a travelling "dome village" plan collapsed. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Organizers of a film project to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, backed by $10.5 million in taxpayer money, are still confirming venues to show it to Canadians after the collapse of their plan to haul a giant dome theatre across the country.

Sesqui Inc., a Toronto-based non-profit that got the biggest slice of cash from the $210-million Canada 150 fund, had expected corporate Canada and the provinces to pay for a "dome village," a model of which was unveiled with fanfare last spring by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

The 20-minute live-action film Horizon has been completed using new 360-degree technology that projects it onto a dome surface. The film drew on lively scenes from every part of the country, including images of a caribou herd that took two weeks to capture.
An image from the Sesqui Inc. film Horizon, which uses 360-degree technology. (Sesqui Inc.)

Horizon features 90 scenes filmed in every province and territory, with images of 386 Canadians skating, singing, rapelling, boating, dancing as well as wildlife such as belugas and caribou,

But the corporate cash for the "dome village" never arrived, and only one province – Ontario – has signed on, with a $2-million contribution. For that money, Ontario gets a seven-community tour starting next month in a smaller dome theatre – 17 metres in diameter instead of 25 metres – that's being trucked between communities on two tractor-trailers.

For the rest of Canada, Sesqui is booking time and space in existing planetariums or domed theatres, or is scheduling "virtual reality" events in which Canadians can see the film individually, using special goggles, as well as view some ancillary material.

The Ontario viewings, using an 80-person dome, are all locked in, between June and August in seven cities. (The originally planned national touring dome would have seated up to 160 people, and appeared in dozens of communities.)

Working out details

Sesqui Inc. premiered the film last week in the Telus Spark dome theatre in Calgary, to some 600 people. But officials are still working out details of opening dates or theatrical runs at five other fixed-dome theatres in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Sudbury, Ont., Halifax and Edmonton.

Showings are also being worked out at four much-smaller inflatable domes, each seating no more than 30 people, in Prince George, B.C., Ottawa, Fredericton and St. John's.

The touring program is scaled back significantly from the original $25-million project proposed back in August 2015, during the federal election campaign.

The project was approved for $9.5 million in funding just days before the October 2015 election, and was topped up by $1 million in March last year by the Liberal government, which announced the project's travelling giant dome as an integral element. No other project has drawn as much money from the Canada 150 Fund, the pot of cash that pays for federally sponsored sesquicentennial events.

We had to downsize the project due to lack of funding- Andrea Stewart, executive producer, Sesqui Inc.

"We had to downsize the project due to lack of funding, mainly from corporate Canada," said Andrea Stewart, an executive producer. "Many provinces chose not to contribute."

"We've pivoted and now are working with planetariums across Canada."

A spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage says the department is consulting with Sesqui to ensure as many Canadians as possible can see the film.

This model of a travelling 'dome village' was unveiled by Heritage Minister Joly in Montreal last year but was never created. (Realisations Inc., Montreal)
"The department continues to work with Sesqui on an alternate distribution strategy, which includes virtual reality goggles, to allow access to the film by Canadians across the country," said Justine Lafond.

CBC is also a minor partner with Sesqui, though without a financial commitment. "It's primarily promotion of their film through social media in Calgary and a few other locations in Ontario," said CBC corporate spokesperson Chuck Thompson.

Copyright and intellectual-property rights for the Sesqui Inc.-developed film-and-projection technology remain with the non-profit, which was established for the sesquicentennial project only.

The technology is separate from the better-known IMAX dome film-and-projection systems, once called OMNIMAX but now IMAX Dome. 

1967 origins

IMAX technology also traces its origins to a Canadian birthday celebration, the 1967 Centennial when the National Film Board and others pioneered films at Expo '67 in Montreal that wrapped around viewers, taking advantage of peripheral vision. The 1967 Centennial also featured a travelling exhibit, the Confederation train, which made stops in dozens of communities.

Sesqui executive producer Joanne Loton said the firm was "inspired by Expo '67" because the Canada 150-backed project also developed a pioneering film technology and virtual reality component that were lacking in Canada, and can make the country internationally competitive.

Some 500 people played a part in the development project, and Loton says Sesqui has injected $18 million into the economy since 2015.

"It's not just a cake-and-fireworks kind of project," Stewart said in an interview. "This is the same kind of investment (as the IMAX precursors), and it's going to have a legacy that's going to last for years."

The scaled-back dome plan puts the 360-degree film and virtual-reality components in at least the same number of Canadian communities, though in different venues, she added.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby


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