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From Canyon To Cove: Hollywood discovers documentary filmmaker

September 16, 2010|By Cindy Frazier
  • Greg McGillivray filming in the Grand Canyon for an IMAX 3-D movie.
Greg McGillivray filming in the Grand Canyon for an IMAX… (Coastline Pilot )

After nearly 50 years of toiling in relative obscurity, Laguna Beach documentary filmmaker Greg MacGillivray has finally gotten Hollywood's attention — big time.

After MacGillivray Freeman Films announced it had crossed the $1 billion mark in terms of box office ticket sales, Daily Variety published a special section devoted entirely to the firm.

Money talks, but in Tinseltown it screams, especially in a recession.

"These giant screen labors of love may not have made MacGillivray a household name, but over the past four decades, they've entertained and educated millions around the globe, and recently — in a hare-and-tortoise scenario Hollywood should envy — quietly passed $1 billion in box office," writes Variety's Iain Blair.

The six-page congratulatory section, in the Aug. 26 issue, has full-age ads from IMAX and other partners in its big-screen format films that take viewers on thrilling, real-life journeys from the top of Mt. Everest to the bottom of the sea, and places in between. MacGillivray even took an IMAX camera sky-diving for "Adventures in Wild California" (2000).

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In Variety, IMAX congratulates the "Billion Dollar Filmmaker," whose films have to date grossed a whopping $1.04 billion in ticket sales — evidently the first documentary filmmaker to achieve that dizzying box office success.

Variety is lavish in its praise of the filmmaker, even by Hollywood standards. MacGillivray is lauded for his attention to factual details, aesthetic prowess in weaving together beautiful images and compelling sound tracks, and for his longtime commitment to preserving the natural wonders that he explores. And it's all true.

Along the way, he is also apparently keeping a lot of museums in the black, since many of his films are cash cows for the nonprofit institutions that keep them showing as part of their educational mission, and sell tickets as well, keeping most of the proceeds. That's the way to do well and do good.

Working from his Laguna Beach home, MacGillivray plans and executes excursions to exotic locales. Having just gotten back from a grueling trip to the Arctic, the 65-year-old MacGillivray is resting for several weeks and wasn't available for interviews about his latest achievement, according to his staff.

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