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Conditional Love

TRT 60m
Examines Canadians’ sense of nationalism in the free-trade era, and what connections there might be between media in the public sphere- educational films, tv- and the sense of national identity expressed by Canadians inside and outside Canada. Premiered at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Winner, Best Documentary, Rhode Island International Film Festival.


For The Record

TRT 20m

I first met Svetlana Zylin (1948-2002) when we were both graduate students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the early 70s. I was in Art History and she was in the Dept. of Theatre.

In the early seventies she founded the first Women’s Theatre Cooperative in Vancouver (of which I was a part) and I co-founded ReelFeelings, a feminist Film and Video Collective (of which she was a part). Svetlana was the first woman to get an MFA in Directing from UBC and went on to direct groundbreaking theatre works all over Canada, to develop and nurture theatre collectives, and to write plays with particularly fascinating, strong female characters, only some of which have been produced.

She starred in my first film, So Where’s My Prince Already? (1976) as the naive, romantic tragicomic bride who never takes her gown off, though the red heart pin moves from her chest to her sleeve, as she somewhat drunkenly stumbles through her marriage and motherhood.

She worked and lived in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and travelled far and wide to assist small groups with theatre productions. She was a devoted teacher and mentor to many. When she died in 2002, at the age of 54, she left a legacy for everyone interested in contemporary theatre- in Canada in particular.

I visited her back in Winnipeg (where she lived as a child) in late 2001 when she found out she had late stage inoperable cancer. I recorded this interview in which she discusses her passion for theatre, for plays, for feminism and for life. She was 7 years old when she first knew she wanted to be in the theatre. She and her brother set up their garage in Winnipeg as a theatre, made a stage, put on shows, charged a nickel for them. When the Manitoba Theatre Centre ( was led by John Hirsch, she got involved as a volunteer and enrolled in the school when it started, where she was inspired by seminal Canadian theatre artists.

Quotes from For the Record:
“I think it was in those days (the 70s) that I had my initial realization that I could never do work on the stage that I could call mine if it was divorced from my political and emotional convictions. So my work has always had a feminist slant. I’m also very dedicated to a lot of life on the stage, to interesting, lively stage pictures, sounds, movement. I’ve never been that enamored of plays that were linear, one set, one story construct.”

“Feminism, for me, was— I don’t know if I’d call it a validation— for me it was a necessity. It gave me a way to justify my need to be- in whatever capacity I chose- center stage of my own life. In those years there weren’t many women directors, I didn’t have many role models, and feminism gave me the strength to maintain my desire and my work and keep pushing forward with it.”

“In 1991, I finally got to produce (in collaboration with Cynthis Grant) a play I wrote called “Djuna, What of the night?”, based on life and work of Djuna Barnes, a melding of all my ideas in terms of feminism and what it takes for a woman to be an artist. I was very intrigued by this woman who was a cutting- edge artist in the 20s and 30s and virtually dropped out of sight and became a recluse- lived alone in a one room apartment on Patchin Place in Greenwich Village for 40 years. “

“Ardele: Would that play (Djuna Barnes: What of the Night?) fly now?
Svetlana: Oh yeah, it’s a very interesting piece…
Ardele: …and has anybody done it since you did it?
Svetlana: No, no.”

“The next play I wrote by myself was The Destruction of Eve, a feminist musical, and it was a revisionist take on the creation myth. God is a woman. It started as a monologue by Eve and then she needed someone to talk to, and she got into a conversation with Mary Magdalene…and then the Blessed Virgin Mary got involved, and you couldn’t do a play about the creation myth without Lilith, so Lilith came forward, and then God. And God had to have minions, so I had three angels originally, but I had to cut two of them due to budgetary restrictions… One angel stayed…Uriel. In the rewritten, big budget version, the other two will come back.”


“There are moments in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks or perceive differently than one sees is indispensable in order to continue considering or reflecting.” Foucault, Usage de Plaisirs. p 14.


Ed Cohen (who teaches with me at Rutgers University in the Women and Gender Studies Dept.) tells us in everyday language why Michel Foucault is his favorite thinker, as he plants and cultivates his tulips. He talks about Foucault’s ideas and questions in the context of his (Foucault’s) predecessors and contemporaries.


How did Foucault intervene in the history of Western thinking about what it means to be a person, the ways we live together, the possibilities that we have for changing our shared worlds? Why did Freud’s idioms, Sartre’s beliefs or Marx’s theories not satisfy Foucault? What is it that most compels Cohen to favor Foucault’s approach to asking questions, and can this be communicated through video?


Video here is the delivery system of two separate but related forms and bodies of knowledge being clearly communicated. Their juxtaposition frames a new question of the power that flowers from each of these very different modes of engagement with the world.


Via a purely visual language, we see what is required to plant and maintain a garden. The care and attention that growing things require and call forth is revealed by means of detailed footage from different seasons in the garden.


The cinematographic use of temporality and seasonal change in the garden offers an evocative horizon within which thinking takes place–i.e. literally becomes implanted in us, in the world. The links between perceiving, seeing, considering (regarder) and reflecting (reflechir) allow me to talk about the use of video as a means of reanimating the conditions of possibility of thought; and Foucault as a thinker whose thought touches on the conditions of possibility of seeing.


Technology, like teaching, is a form of mediation. My work interrogates how different bodies of knowledge are transmitted through media and mediation; how we process the questions that engage us, affect us, transform us; how we learn to make sense and thereby make the worlds that we sense.

Learn more about Ed Cohen