The Old Man and The Sea:
Hands Above The Rest?

by Alyson Carty & Chris Robinson

"He rubbed the cramped hand against the trousers and tried to gentle the fingers. But it would not open. Maybe it will open with the sun, he thought. Maybe it will open when the strong raw tuna is digested. If I have to have it, I will open it, cost whatever it costs."

-- The Old Man and The Sea
If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can watch the beauty of The Old Man and The Sea. © Pascal Blais Productions inc., Imagica Corp., Panorama Film Studio of Yaroslavl.

It's all in the hands. In 1952, 53 year old Ernest Miller Hemingway of Oak Park, Illinois shrugged off the decay of his own weary, abused body, an increasingly scarred mind, and the pulsating aches of his five tools of anguished expression to compose his tale of an old Cuban who battles his own decay, a crippled left hand, and a giant marlin. In 1997, 40 year old Alexander Petrov of Prechistoe, Russia struggled against a strange environment (Canada), a new and intimidating technology (IMAX), and with the use of his finger tips, transformed Hemingway's ode to masculinity from splashes of oil paint into a vibrant, coherent, fresco in motion.

Petrov's daunting task of filling 70mm of celluloid and projecting those chemically composed sight and sounds onto a seven story screen was as much a challenge as the fictional old man's four day battle with the marlin. The story becomes downright maniacal when you consider that an animation stand was constructed from scratch for the film. Of course unlike the old man, Petrov was not fighting for his humility and existence. While "El Campeon" fought the fish on his own, Petrov had the help of Russian colleagues and the technical team at Montreal's Pascal Blais Productions in producing the 22 minute animated interpretation of The Old Man and The Sea.

Large format filmmaking is an absolutely unforgiving medium. The most minute error is amplified in immense proportions when projected on screen. The incredible detail of the image is both mouth watering eye-candy for any cinephile and a nightmare challenge for any filmmaker. With that to contend with, why would a Russian filmmaker comfortable working in 35 mm, and a Canadian production company with no previous experience in large format filmmaking, be interested in taking such a risk to produce The Old Man and The Sea?

The Beginning of a Saga
The story begins at the 1990 Ottawa International Animation Festival where Petrov's Oscar nominated film, The Cow was being shown in competition. "I fell off my seat when I saw [The Cow]," says Pascal Blais. "It was unbelievable the amount of work there. It was like seeing a Rembrandt come to life." Blais and his sister-in-law Martine Chartrand, a producer at the National Film Board of Canada, were in attendance. Although Blais was very impressed with Petrov's style and technique, it was Chartrand who pursued Petrov's talent and finally succeeded in securing an apprenticeship with him in Russia. While in Russia Chartrand discovered Petrov's interest in making a film about Papa Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea. Chartrand convinced Petrov to put together a proposal and storyboard and travel across the ocean to Canada in search of production money.

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