View from the heavens

Seeking stability in a changing world

Published: Sep 21 2016, 01:01:am

Sunday, August 24, 1986.

A SHADOW CROSSES THE FLOOR of the plain, giving pause to a pachyderm. Shifting about to get a better view, the surprised beast looks heavenward and waves its trunk in warning.
    The elephant is in no danger, of course.
    Big game hunting is no longer permitted in Kenya. The shadow on the Serengeti is that of a hot air balloon bearing wildlife photographer Alan Root.
    The moment is recorded in Balloon Safari, a six-minute motion picture projected on floor and wall screens in Kenya’s Expo 86 pavilion. Fairgoers view the picture from a balcony, a perspective used to simulate an aerial journey.
    Although the effect is somewhat dulled by the bustle in the East African state’s small pavilion — there’s too much noise and extraneous light — the idea is on target. Credit for the conception goes to the pavilion’s Vancouver designer, architect Henry Hawthorne.
    More conventional movie formats are used by Korea and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The spacious Saudi pavilion offers a continuous program of films in a 50-seat theatre. Eight different documentaries, varying in length from 15 to 55 minutes, focus on aspects of the Middle Eastern nation’s customs, art and industrial development.
    The Korean message is packaged in a single 16-minute movie, A Nation on the Move, shown regularly in a 160-seat theatre. Offering the usual upbeat portrait of a harmonious, purposeful country, it takes note of Korea’s traditional “respect for age and superiors,” while emphasizing its “discipline.” Fairgoers are urged to visit Seoul in 1988 for the summer Olympics.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: London-born Alan Root grew up in Kenya, where he combined his interest in nature and photography to become an internationally-known wildlife documentarist. Together with his wife Joan, he produced pictures for the British TV series Survival, the BBC and National Geographic. In the 1970s, he adopted the hot air balloon as his preferred aerial film platform, noting that airplanes moved too fast to take good pictures of animals, and that a helicopter’s noise just scared them away. His original Balloon Safari was a 54-minute television show. Root’s 1978 feature, Mysterious Castles of Clay, was nominated for a best documentary Academy Award. In 1988, he was was credited as a “special gorilla photographer” for Michael Apted’s Gorillas in the Mist, the movie based on the life of wildlife activist Dian Fossey.    
    Thirty years on, I read my terse note on the Saudi pavilion’s “continuous program” and wonder why I didn’t say more about its “eight different documentaries.” I suspect that they were just ordinary and perhaps deadly dull, but I honestly don’t remember.
    The Korean show, by contrast, impressed me with its emphasis on purpose and “discipline.” In 1986, the Republic of Korea, popularly known as South Korea, was into the 36th year of its war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or North Korea). Divided since 1945, the Korean peninsula was the site of a three-year shooting war that began in 1950 when the North, supported by China and the U.S.S.R., invaded the South, an ally of the U.S. Best remembered today as the setting of Robert Altman’s classic anti-war film M*A*S*H  (and its 11-season TV spinoff), the Korean conflict resulted in a 1953 armistice agreement that left the nation divided along the 38th parallel.
    In 1986, South Korea’s Expo pavilion focused on its economic success as an “Asian Tiger,” while in North Korea the government brought its Yongbyon nuclear reactor on line, a power plant capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. Today, South Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the fifth largest in Asia and the 13th largest in the world. (By contrast, Canada is in 16th place.) North Korea, while still among the world’s underdeveloped nations, conducted its first nuclear test explosion in 2006. Currently (2016), it is estimated to have 15 to 22 atomic bombs in its nuclear stockpile, bargaining chips in its “secret negotiations” with the U.S. to bring about a peace treaty and an end to the now 66-year-old Korean War.

See also: The eight articles included in this, the fourth of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:
31: Expo 86 CP/GM (Bob Rogers)
32: Expo 86 Telecom Canada
33: Expo 86  Air Canada/CNR
34: Expo 86 Islam/Christianity