MacGillivray Freeman Films, Part 1

September 3, 2014 | By

ToFly_Beta_cvr_mI went a little overboard in what was supposed to be a single review of an IMAX film released on Betamax (yes, really) to illustrate one of many films unavailable on disc, let alone as a digital download, but it sort of expanded into a four-film, mini-portrait of MacGillivray Freeman Films, a highly prolific production company with a mandate to educate the world of Nature’s fragile beauty using the cinematic tools of artisans Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman.

Both honed their skills making documentaries on surfing during the late sixties, and defined their own visual style – grandiose wide angle footage of underwater or aerial subjects, often in large film formats like IMAX.

Their subjects covered terrain high and low, and in To Fly! (1976), commissioned by the Smithsonian to celebrate America’s aviation history during the country’s bicentennial year, was hugely successful, enjoying a long run at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and getting a release on VHS an Betamax videotape.

I bought the film off Ebay because it was part of a batch of films unavailable on disc (and two years later, most of my purchases are still unavailable), and quite frankly, it sounded neat – aerial footage in IMAX, edited in a style that undoubtedly emphasized shots rather than fast cutting.

Plus, there was the absurdity in watching an IMAX movie – the biggest damn film format around – on an obsolete video format. I know; it’s a personal sense of the absurd that not everyone gets, but if you do, then you’ve a higher sense of the ridiculous than the average person. Give yourself a hug.


The movie is in stereo and showcases British-born Bernardo Segall’s effective score, and it’s nice to see a lesser-known composer get some due. Segall’s best-known work lies in TV (Columbo, Nichols, Airwolf) but he also scored a handful of feature films, including The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1961) and single-lens Cinerama extravaganza Custer of the West (1967).

Freeman was To Fly’s co-director, and he also co-photographed the still-stunning, two-time Oscar-winning short Sentinels of Silence / Centinelas del silencio (1971), which real, REALLY needs to be on Blu-ray. Director Robert Amram filmed Aztec and Mayan pyramids from a helicopter, and the colours and aerial panoramas are stunning.

Also reviewed are a pair of the company’s films released on DVD and Blu-ray – the Oscar-nominated shorts Dolphins! (2000) + The Living Sea (1995), both shot in IMAX and released by Image Entertainment.

Coming next: a review of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of the John Wayne-Richard Attenborough-Judy Geeson cop thriller Brannigan (1975) plus Wayne as McQ (1974), and perhaps Richard Attenborough’s greatest performance as repulsive serial killer John Christie in the taut, grim thriller 10 Rillington Place (1971), which co-starred Geeson, and was released by Sony in superb Region 2 special edition while we in North America have to settle for a bare bones MOD.

I’m also finishing up on the next podcast, which should be up by the weekend.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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