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Expo 67: The birthplace of modern moviegoing

A new book co-edited by a Concordia author traces the roots of contemporary digital culture to the Montreal World’s Fair
October 28, 2014
By Cléa Desjardins

Cinema screens can be seven stories high. Some of the biggest blockbusters of the past decade have been shown in 3D. We’re as likely to watch a movie in a car or on a plane as in a theatre.

We take these facts for granted. But according to Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67, a new book edited by researchers from Concordia and York universities and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, their existence is thanks in part to film innovation at Montreal’s Expo 67.

Multiple media

The book’s co-editor Monika Kin Gagnon, a communication studies professor at Concordia, says that what distinguished Expo 67 was the proliferation of media technologies. At the event, visitors experienced more displays of cinematic technology than had ever previously been presented.

The multiscreen Labyrinth pavilion was the site of experimentation for what would become IMAX in 1970; the world’s first interactive film was screened in the Czechoslovakian pavilion; rotating theatres gave audiences a 360-degree point of view. These and other daring cinematic events — with Canadian and Quebecois filmmakers often at the forefront — shattered the boundaries of the screen and the cinematic experience as it was previously understood.

A sense of the past

“Although the possibility of seeing the entire works in anything like their original context ended with Expo, the book gives readers the sense of what it was like to make and experience those films nearly 50 years ago,” says Gagnon, who edited the book with Janine Marchessault, Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization at York University.

With help from the book’s contributors and partner organizations including the National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the Cinemathèque québecoise, they excavated and bought together a large archive of materials by consulting with individual filmmakers and several institutional archives.

Many of the films shown at Expo 67 have been lost, because their specialized screening technologies were demolished once the exhibition closed. Reimagining Cinema reconstructs that original viewing experience by revealing the intricacies and processes of production, while also including factual descriptions, interpretive essays, interviews and image dossiers.

Launching Reimagining

Gagnon’s book will be officially launched at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 1, during a special event at the Cinemathèque québecoise (335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.).

The launch will be preceded by a symposium at 2 p.m., which features a discussion with IMAX co-inventor Graeme Ferguson. This will be followed by a roundtable at 3:30 p.m. with several of Reimagining Cinema’s contributors, including Seth Feldman, Johanne Sloan, Anthony Kinik, Aimee Mitchell, and the editors, Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault. Admission to all the events is free.

The symposium and book launch are supported by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO in conjunction with UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.

Experience the cinema of Expo 67 firsthand: Polar Life, a film originally screened at Expo 67, is showing at the Cinemathèque québecoise till November 2

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