We Are Young!

Directed by Francis Thompson
and Alexander Hammid
Six screens, twenty minutes, 35mm,
colour, English and French
Canadian Pacific Railway–Cominco Pavilion

The Canadian Pacific Railway–Cominco Pavilion displayed We Are Young! by filmmakers Francis Thompson and Alexander Hammid. Hammid (Alexandr Hackenschmied) was a Czech avant-garde filmmaker who fled the Nazis in 1939 and later joined forces with Thompson, an American painter/filmmaker, to experiment with large-scale film formats. Together they made numerous world’s fair films – including the hugely successful three-screen film event To Be Alive! for the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens, for which they won an Academy Award.

For We Are Young! Thompson and Hammid used six screens to create an experimental short on the topic of youth culture. The three screens in the lower row were roughly thirty square feet, while the three upper screens were oblong and overhung the lower screens by about a foot. As with To Be Alive!, screens were used to present separate images as well as a dynamic montage of images presented synchronously. Youths and young adults were seen moving, driving, riding, dancing, and thriving across all six screens, but in the film’s opening minutes, they also encountered a considerable amount of resistance from a group of disembodied and disgruntled adults: “Arrêtez ces folies!” “They’re like wild animals!” “Stop! You’re splitting my eardrums!” “You call that noise ‘music’?” “On ne peut pas s’entendre!” And so on. The film captured the emerging youth movement and “generation gap” of the 1960s, but it also served as an allegory of a young nation’s coming of age. In 1976, the partnership of Thompson and Hammid produced one of the first releases in the IMAX format, To Fly!, made for the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. According to Thompson, “Our films just got bigger and bigger and bigger until they were IMAX.”

Alexander Hammid (d. 2004)

Alexander Hammid was a leading photographer and filmmaker in Czechoslovakia between the two world wars and immigrated to the U.S. in 1938. With filmmaker Maya Deren he made Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Hammid worked in partnership with filmmaker Francis Thompson for over 25 years, including the three-screen documentary To Be Alive! for the New York’s World’s Fair of 1964, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1965. They went on to create We Are Young! for Expo 67, and To Fly! (1976) in IMAX which continues to play at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Francis Thompson (d. 2003)

Francis Thompson was a painter and art teacher before making his first film, Evolution of the Skyscraper in 1939. During his 50-year career, Thompson produced, directed and edited dozens of films ranging from abstract experimental shorts to several IMAX films. Thompson created special optical lenses for N.Y., N.Y.: A Day in the Life of New York (1957), to generate abstract, kinetic, colour collages with an original soundtrack, in this short 15-minute film. Thompson worked in partnership with filmmaker Alexander Hammid for over 25 years, including the three-screen documentary To Be Alive! for the New York’s World’s Fair of 1964, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1965. They went on to create We Are Young! for Expo 67, and To Fly! (1976) in IMAX which continues to play at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.