'You want to go big': Gigantic multimedia installation brings Expo 67 to Montrealers

The esplanade of the Place des Arts will be transformed into a gigantic outdoor multimedia show, a new installation on Expo 67.

Karine Lanoie-Brien's work of art brings 1960s world fair to new generations

This is a miniature version of what will be a mammoth outdoor cinematic revisiting Montreal's Expo 67. (CBC)

Artist and director Karine Lanoie-Brien had to take a different approach when writing a 27-minute film about Expo 67.

"Writing for multiscreen is not normal," she said. "I had to write in my car because I have a screen in the front...doors, screen on the side."

As of Sept. 18,  the esplanade of the Place des Arts will be transformed into a gigantic, 360-degree multimedia experience.

A thousand clips of archival footage of Expo 67 from several sources are to be projected outdoors on multiple surfaces and walls five-stories high, which are basically the length of a CFL football field.

Karine Lanoie-Brien at the maquette of Expo 67 Live, a multi-screen, spatial experience to be projected on the walls of the esplanade at Place des Arts. (NFB production photo)

The idea is to bring back memories for people who were there, but as NFB producer René Chénier explained, they also thought of how this would be experienced by younger generations who missed Montreal's monumental world fair.

"Your mother, your parents may have told you about '67 but if you're not there, you're not there," explained Chénier. "Now there's a possibility — even though you're 40, 30, 25, even 18 — to feel what was done 50 years ago."

Tenured producer Chénier knew of Lanoie-Brien three years ago. Her work has been primarily in television and film.

At Expo 67, the National Film Board's The Labyrinth was heralded as groundbreaking innovation. (ONF/NFB )

Impressed by her creativity and her skills as a writer, director and editor, he offered Lanoie-Brien an opportunity to come up with an homage to Expo 67 in the name of the NFB.

Fifty years ago, The Labyrinth was the film board's offering to the six-month long international fair in Montreal about innovation and design. It was a multiscreen installation of the shape of a cross that received raved reviews around the globe.  

Fast forward to 2017, Lanoie-Brien's final proposal is an unintentional continuation of that pre-Imax experience, pushing the NFB to explore what Chénier described as a new kind of visual storytelling.

With Expo 67 Live, the scale is meant to transform your movie watching experience. With 360 degrees of screens, 43 speakers to blast music of the era and especially to hear sounds and voices of 1960 Montreal talking to you rather than narrating for you.

Lanoie-Brien and the team call it a spatial experience.
NFB producer René Chénier and Expo 67 Live creator Karine Lanoie-Brien.

The intent —  which I tested out in a VR simulation of the real deal —  is to make you feel like you were actually there.

It brings you back to 1962, listening to then Mayor Jean Drapeau announce his unimaginable idea for Montreal.

Then you're standing on the site as the earth was sandblasted to build the Montreal Metro line connecting mainland to man-made islands Sainte-Hélène and Notre-Dame. And you too get on the Expo Express to attend the inaugural party or to visit the Trinidad and Tobago or China pavilions.

Going big

You can almost get a sense of the grandeur, watching Lanoie-Brien describe this challenging process.

I followed her ballerina-like arms pointing to her imaginary car of multiple screens and her eyes widening as she talked about the work put into transferring 1,000 clips of archival footage from Expo 67.

"The archives are in 60 millimeters, 35 millimeters...You want to go big."

"If you want to go big you have to scan, if you want to scan and do it at 345 feet of movie," she said, the speed of her speech forcing me to raise my own eyes and shake my head in disbelief.

Maquette of the multi screens also known as walls on the Esplanade at Place Des Arts for new NFB installation event that re-lives Expo 67. (Nantali Indongo)

"You have to have a powerful person with skills, technical approach...with after effects, Wow..many tools to make it happen. They dove with us in this kind of challenge at each frame," she added.

The "they" she's referring to is exactly 100 other artists and experts. They watched endless documentaries, read books and spoke to people who witnessed the event that ultimately brought Montreal into the game of cosmopolitan cities.

"I think it was a transformational event for many people," Lanoie-Brien said.

"It shocked me. Why is there still light in their eyes 50 years after the event? So I was very curious about that kind of story."

The opening night of Expo 67 Live is Sept. 18 at 7:45 p.m.

The event runs until Sept. 30 at the esplanade at Place des Arts.

About the Author

Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.