CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 21. . . .February 5, 2010.
Kenton Vaughan (Writer & Director). Gordon Henderson, Silva Basmajian & Kenton Vaughan (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
90 min., 45 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 0109 316.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.
Many descriptions have been used to portray the ultimate goal of the Royal Ontario Museum's Renaissance Campaign from 2002 - 2007, a unique renovation and expansion called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal ROM. The new museum finally opened to the public in June 2007.
Steered by one-time Globe and Mail newspaperman, the museum's Director & CEO William Thorsell -- and designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind -- we see the new ROM take shape. We see it carefully guided through its original sketch, the fundraising stages, a multitude of design and engineering decisions, and the ultimate impact it produced among various people.
One gathers from the film that the actual experience of visiting the previous ROM was threatened almost to the point of extinction by virtue of low and dwindling attendance numbers. A successful reincarnation would bring back the necessary people and keep them coming back for more visits. Given the advanced age of that existing ROM building, together with the desire to incorporate striking new architectural ideas with the old ones, it would not be a straightforward retrofit on any front. This is where the documentary filming is especially valuable: we look in on excellent photography of the old structure being torn down, new elements being affixed, and see numerous physical perspectives from both inside and out. To become acquainted with the actual collections of artifacts, with the exception of a dinosaur or two and an ancient Chinese garment, you'll have to actually go there and see them first-hand.
The film lays out the story of the renovation much as a writer of a suspenseful murder mystery might do, and, in fact, revealing the ''who-dun-it'' when it comes to the essential credit for erecting ''The Museum'' seems to be a main goal. Although we learn that it took an accomplished, self-confident person to successfully negotiate the whole exploit, I think that the talented, exuberant architect Libeskind was probably essential. Obviously, being a daring risk-taker was a job-requirement for both characters. Actor Colm Feore was the film's narrator, and his voice also creates the appropriate level of suspense.
I would recommend this film to certain people, such as curators, museum carpenters and technicians, teachers, fundraisers, directors of museums and art galleries, engineering students and even patrons of the arts. However, students, children and their parents, and the general public would do well first to see the building and its galleries in-person. The lengthy film dwells on certain features of the rebuild that might well detract from a visit. Among these are descriptions of the mind-sets of the people in charge, cost over-runs, scheduling delays, close examination of the reasons why ancient artifacts would suffer with so much ambient light, and others' varying reviews of the completed museum.
Was it entirely out-of-character with its own mid-town Toronto neighbourhood, ill-suited for its mandate to protect vulnerable artifacts or simply the most alluring, stunning Canadian public structure of the new millenium? You and your class or family should make up your own minds without unnecessary influence. In this way, if the museum redesign is truly successful as a marketing device with staying power, the overall number of public visits even after two years post-opening will be significantly up from before. That remains to be seen as this is written.
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired teacher from London, ON, whose past students have enjoyed the ROM's museumobiles, its outreach collections and the ROM building as it existed pre-renovation.
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