LA VIE POLAIRE / POLAR LIFE - CINEMAexpo67
One of Expo 67's most ingenious multiscreen experiments.
The Expo 67 films attracted worldwide attention and over 50 million visitors during its exhibition from April 22 to October 27 1967. Montreal’s world exposition distinguished itself from previous world fairs with its spectacular displays of film and media transformed into urban and futuristic architectures. More displays of photographic, cinematic, and telematic technology were experienced at Expo 67 than at any previous world exposition. At the pinnacle of a new post-war global humanism in the 1960s, cinema was expanded beyond the frame into total environments, multi-screens, multi-image and 360-degree immersion – experiments often seen as a harbinger of a transnational digital age to come. Expo 67 ‘film-events’ were creative experimentations that resonated with dynamic energies of the 1960’s international arts and culture scenes. In its utopian aspirations, Expo 67 invited artists to transform perception and create the world anew. CINEMAexpo67 is an exploration of Expo 67’s most ingenious screen experiments.
The original film
Polar Lifeis the first of these re-creations that will lead up to the 50th anniversary in 2017 of Expo 67. Polar Life was directed by Graeme Ferguson, co-inventor of the IMAX system (with Roman Kroitor and others) that would later be showcased at the World Fair at Osaka in 1970. Polar Life is an experimental precursor to the panoramic spatial complexity created in IMAX films. Located within the sprawling “Man the Explorer” Pavilion on Ile St-Hélène, the novelty of Polar Life was its theatre, with its audience seated on a rotating turntable in the middle of eleven fixed screens. Viewers described the intricate juxtaposition of the screen images and narration, and the complex relationship created between moving spectators and multiple screens. The bilingual narration by media personalities, Lise Payette and Patrick Watson, accompany the composition of documentary and archival moving images, showing elaborate temporal and spatial representations of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Amongst the scenes shown are the Inuit documented in their everyday activities in the Canadian North, northern peoples of Alaska, Lapland, and Siberia, settlers from the south, scientists, explorers, and other inhabitants of the landscape, including reindeer, bears and birds. A candid image of the north’s communities, traditions and landscapes emerges. Archival film footage of early northern explorers was combined with newly-shot documentary footage by Ferguson during one year of travel in the arctic and antarctic, edited across the various screens to compose sometimes seamless, sometimes juxtaposing spatial relationships. The rotating viewer would experience three screens at one time as they turned within the round theatre in a full rotation of 28 minutes; the full duration of the film screening of Polar Life was 18 minutes.
The immersive digital projection installation recreates the pioneering audio-visual experience of the multi-screen film, Polar Life. Using advanced digital technology and a 90-degree curved screen representing 25% of the original theatre, and three high-definition digital projectors (with edge-blending and warp to create a seamless single image), the digitally restored film images move across eleven virtual screens that pan horizontally across the physical screen to simulate the visual experience that audiences had sitting in Polar Life’s rotating theatre back in 1967. Historic photographs, architectural plans, a model of the original pavilion, and creative tools used to make the eleven-screen film along with other pieces of memorabilia are exhibited to provide further contextualization. Polar Life’s re-emergence and re-creation at this moment, makes an important contribution to a renewed interest in the geopolitics of the Arctic, and issues of global warming.
Working as a partnership of institutions, scholars, archivists and filmmakers, CINEMAexpo67 seeks to locate, restore and re-exhibit these films in new forms to wide audiences and capture the complexity and imaginative fervour of Expo 67’s exciting period in film history. The recreation of Polar Life is a partnership between the Cinémathèque Québécoise (where the original film, deposited by the Ville de Montréal, is being conserved) under the direction of Jean Gagnon, Director of preservation and access to collections, the CINEMAexpo67 research team of scholars and artists from Concordia and York Universities, who have provided research, curatorial support, and exhibition funding; and the National Film Board of Canada, who have contributed the 4K digitizing of the original elements of the film and digital restoration led by Munro Ferguson, as well as Technical Direction of the installation under the supervision of Executive Producer – Special Projects René Chénier.
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