Title: Expo 67: Mission Impossible (Fantasia 2017)

Also known as:

Year: 2017

Genre: Documentary

Language: French, English

Runtime: 68 min

Director: Guylaine Maroist, Michel Barbeau, Eric Ruel

Writer: Guylaine Maroist, Michel Barbeau, Eric Ruel

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7066156/

After the Soviet Union drops out of hosting the World’s Fair in 1967, Canada is elected as the new host country. While Canada as whole is excited by the news there is a problem: they have only 4 years to build new islands on a river that the exposition is going to take place on. And this is only the start of the issues they face.

Our thoughts:
Something that’s impressive about the Fantasia International Film Festival is that, while it’s a collection of distinct films from all over the world, you can still find some wild cards hidden amongst the programming. For me, one of those wild cards was “Expo 67: Mission Impossible”. I knew next to nothing about the film or its subject before going in and I walked away informed, impressed and kind of in love with this little eccentric documentary.

As I said, I knew next to nothing about the film. The programming information I had listed no description other than a documentary tag. A rudimentary internet search pulled up a trailer that offered no form clarity either. The fact that I went into the film blind certainly had a hand in my enjoyment due to my lack of expectations but there’s something fascinating in the way Guylaine Maroist, Michel Barbeau and Eric Ruel presented a film about Montreal building the World’s Fair in the ‘60s.

While “Expo 67” is a documentary it is cut like a thriller. The movie is composed mostly of archival footage, photos, interviews, and news reports. There are a few interviews inserted through out to help fill in the holes and add some perspective from the people involved in this massive project that seemed like it was destined to fail. A majority of the film though is told through what Maroist, Barbeau and Ruel, along with their team of researchers, found in the archives — they let the documentation during the creation of the event tell the story. That might not sound that interesting or unique but the way in which the film is edited — as if you were watching a crime-thriller — gives the movie an intriguing quality.

This choice of editing the documentary like a genre film is not done for the sake of a gimmick or being tongue-in-cheek about the subject matter. Montreal winning the right to host the world’s fair in 1967 after the Soviets dropped out was a victory, not only for Québec’s province, but it allowed Canada to take center stage for a world event. However, there were massive problems: they had only 4 years to put the exposition together and they had no place to host it. Then someone came up with the plan of building new islands on the St. Lawrence river — not only did Montreal have to create and organize and exposition to host the world, but they had to build the islands themselves that they were going to use.

Expo 67 (the actual event) was literally an impossible mission — they ran the data through NASA’s computers in the early stages of planning and the computers calculated that it would take at least 7 years to accomplish this feat.

Even though history has already informed us that, not only did Expo 67 happen on time, but that it was a massive success. In order to keep the documentary from being a horribly dry retelling of the events, Maroist, Barbeau and Ruel took that idea of this risky plan and turned into a theme — tell the story of Expo 67 in the form of crime-thriller. It was gamble because in order to achieve that sort of atmosphere and feeling, it has to be edited and paced in a particular manner. It doesn’t affect the chronological aspect but it does mean that points cannot be explored at great depth — it has to keep moving to the next key point in the timeline.

It was gamble that paid off because “Expo 67” transcended a simple documentary and created a viewing experience that allows the audience to feel like they are watching more of a traditional movie. And it does so without ever sacrificing the truth or the facts about this moment in history — it manages to entertain and inform of this particular event in Montreal’s history. Not to discredit the abilities of the filmmakers, but it was shocking how well this concept of cutting archival footage to a particular rhythm was done seamlessly, down to the music.

Now, having said that, “Expo 67: Mission Impossible” is a tricky film to know how it will play for other people. I had a small advantage in that I didn’t know what I was going to get with the film but the creativity of Maroist, Barbeau, and Ruel in the way that they produce their films, along with the fascinating history of Montreal building their version of the World’s Fair, drew me in. I was hooked while I watched each moment unfold. Moments of Col. Edward Churchill blowing people’s minds with the concept of Critical Path. To Canada’s House of Commons losing their minds over the fact that Expo 67’s logo didn’t feature a maple leaf or a beaver. Like any good thriller, I was relived when the film’s climax rolled around and the audience discovers that Montreal had pulled off the unimaginable — building a world exposition in an unrealistic short amount of time. The strange thing is that I knew that already but how “Expo 67: Mission Impossible” is structured kept me engaged in a way that I had forgotten about that fact.

Perhaps calling “Expo 67: Mission Impossible” a wild card is a bit of an exaggeration or hyperbolic but it’s a movie that feels distinct amongst its current peers. There are other documentaries that use more of a traditional film structure, but they can sometimes lose focus of what it is that they are trying to accomplish and it isn’t able to pull off either being a documentary or a movie. “Expo 67: Mission Impossible” that keeps it’s material and structure well balanced and allows a viewer to be informed and entertained while maintaining a tonal consistency.

Positive things:
- Does a fantastic job of editing the film to the rhythm and pacing of a thriller.
- Great choice and use of music.
- An impressive amount of documentation and archival footage.
Negative things:
- Nothing was a negative for me, but as I mentioned, it doesn't explore any events in the timeline of Expo 67 with great depth.


We watched this movie thanks to:
Fantasia International Film Festival 2017

Reviewed by:







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