Saturday, March 26, 2005

On IMAX Corp's response to concerns about theatre programming

IMAX has published the following statement on their website:

Recently, some articles have been written about a small number of IMAX® theatres in the USA and their decision not to exhibit certain science-based films due to their concern about offending constituents who may have religious objections to such films.

The IMAX theatres cited in the articles are independently owned and operated -- as are nearly all of the theatres in the worldwide IMAX theatre network. All of these theatres make their own independent programming choices. IMAX Corporation owns and/or operates only ten IMAX theatres, all of which are in North America, and all of which exhibit a wide range of programming, ranging from science and education films to Hollywood's biggest event films converted to IMAX's format. They are currently showing James Cameron's Aliens of the Deep and Robots: The IMAX Experience.

IMAX Corporation is committed to producing and encouraging others to develop a wide variety of film content for IMAX theatres to choose from. Over the last 30 years, more than 200 large format films have been produced for IMAX theatres, many of them covering numerous educational topics and many of them produced in association with major scientific institutions. IMAX Corporation is currently in production of two films that are both educational and entertaining. Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D, which chronicles the experiences of the 12 men who walked on the moon, will be released to IMAX theatres in Fall 2005, and Denizens of the Deep 3D (working title), which is an underwater adventure about symbiotic life at the bottom of the sea, will be released in Spring 2006.

[ref: IMAX FAQ, also the original NYT article about this issue ]

The statement is very careful not to make an assertion one way or the other about the particular film or films concerned. It states that that they are "committed to producing and encouraging others to develop a wide variety of content". Sounds good, except for what it doesn't say.

It specifically doesn't say that the IMAX Corporation is committed to resisting pressure to water-down films it produces to make them more friendly to a Creationist audience.

It is completely silent about which theatres banned which films on which dates because of what pressure. If you want to know that, consumer, you have to ask your local IMAX theatre operator - the IMAX Corporation doesn't know and/or doesn't care.

The IMAX Corporation thinks it can absolve itself of responsibility for its theatre operators. Maybe that is true in a strictly legal and contractual sense.

But there is something more at stake here than legal obligation. IMAX's brand is at stake. The IMAX Corporation may not make programming decisions at the theatres concerned but it certainly licenses the IMAX brand to these theatres and so it must wear the brand damage that the actions of these theatres wreak by caving into Creationist pressure.

By not taking a strong stand in defence of science, IMAX is diluting the strength of its brand. No longer can the parents of a secular family take their children to see a "scientific" film at an IMAX theatre and be assured that the film has not been watered down into Creationist pap so as not to offend Christian fundamentalists.

The IMAX brand offers no guarantee that your local IMAX theatre isn't subject to the censoring demands of a local religious group. It may well be that it does stand up to such intimidation, but how do you know? The IMAX Corporation doesn't care. Not their problem.

Another corporation tried to absolve itself of the actions of its business partners. Its name was Nike. Its business partners were third world contract labour companies. Problem is, it didn't work. Their mud was Nike's mud.

And so it is with IMAX.

If you are a consumer of science-based entertainment, treat the IMAX brand with the scepticism it deserves. Ask your local IMAX theatre operator what their programming policies are. If they don't have a policy that resists censorship of material that assumes or promotes evolutionary theory consider very carefully whether you are prepared to spend your consumer dollar at their theatre.


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