Documentary project celebrates legacy of Expo 67

For Constanza Burucúa, capturing the spirit of the 1967 World Exhibition in Montreal – known simply as Expo 67 for the last half century – required something special.

“I wanted to do something different from a mere academic study,” the Modern Languages and Literatures professor explained. “I wanted to capture personal memories, inspire optimism and share something visceral and immediate with the general public. You cannot do this with a formal academic paper.

“I chose film because it is a great format for the old generation to return to, and relive, a historical moment in their lives in a completely new way; you can see the world moving and be in that world.”

Burucúa’s documentary project, 1967: Canada Welcomes the World, is a visual ode to Expo 67 through a series of archival images and short documentaries focused on the national pavilions of the 60 participating countries. The project debuted last year at the Oakville and Elgin County museums as part of their sesquicentennial efforts.

Expo 67, according to Burucúa, was a perfect opportunity for many countries – some with their newfound sense of identity and confidence – to present themselves to the world. Each country did so by exhibiting its arts and crafts and advances in science and technology.

That also held true for Canada.

“It was setting itself up for a big change that also coincided with its centennial celebrations,” Burucúa said.

Expo 67 captured a new spirit of national identity. In fact, the aim, according to its official documents, was “to provide an explanation of the world to each and every one of its visitors.” For Canada, it was an invitation, rich with optimism for the future.

“There is a direct link between 1967 and 2017,” Burucúa said. “I live in the suburbs, which have a stereotypical image of uniformity. Believe me, that’s not true. All the different families and cultures I see here are the direct result of the cultural wealth inaugurated in 1967. We are a consequence of that today.”

Burucúa spent more than two-and-a-half years researching and collaborating on this project with her husband, documentary filmmaker Juan Andrés Bello.

“One of my fondest memories is one week my husband and I spent at Library and Archives Canada, which coincidentally was inaugurated in 1967,” Burucúa said. “It was like a treasure hunt.” Together, they browsed through photos – she looked through 5,000 images daily – archival footage, promotional material and architectural drawings, all related to Expo 67.

“Everyone who grew up in that era, from 5-year-olds to teenagers, has a memory of Expo 67. People who attended the exhibition or found the project’s Instagram page have since provided memorabilia from when they (or their relatives) attended. I love how generous people are with sharing these materials,” she continued.

The work also produced a spin-off piece. Rebecca Bugg, an undergraduate student volunteering with the project, also made her own short documentary, Hello, Canada, based on archival images Burucúa unearthed. Funded by Western’s Canada 150 Student Fund, the project recently received the Award of Commendation at the Canada Shorts Film Festival and the Award of Merit at the Headline International Film Festival.

“Young people nowadays relate to short audio-visual formats. This project is presenting the age-old question of national identity to the current generation in a new way – if, among them, there are future academics who want to study it further, even better,” Burucúa said.