Website last updated July 2011



Like a Dream that Vanishes
41 minutes 16mm 1999

Like a Dream That Vanishes continues my work in film both thematically and formally: the ephemerality of life echoed in the temporal nature of film, the stuff of life in the emulsion, and the energy, life-force in rhythmic light pulses. (Your life is like a candle burning...) Imageless emulsion is inter-cut with brief shots of natural elements and mise-en-scene of the stages of human life: a little boy runs and falls; teens hang out together at night smoking; sun shines through tree branches; men pace, waiting; flashes of lightning; an elderly man speaks philosophically about miracles. The movement between form and formlessness, appearing and withdrawing, creation and dissolution (death) are felt. The film image, as the reality behind it, is not quite graspable. (B.St)

" Like a Dream that Vanishes is not only Sternberg's most artistically accomplished film, it is her most philosophical work to date. This is not because it includes a professor talking about philosophy, though John Davis makes a significant contribution by introducing large, philosophical issues in a work composed of "smaller and rougher" images of everyday life; rather, it is because Sternberg's point of view is philosophical in a more colloquial sense of the term. It is philosophical, that is to say, calm, rational and imbued with a kind of intense equanimity, in its acceptance of the ephemerality of life (and film) and the doubtfulness of ever arriving at final answers or infallible truths. One might also say that Sternberg thinks philosophically through her images. Rather than imposing philosophical ideas on her film's content, she integrates them in the film's formal elements, giving them a filmic embodiment that lets us, as viewers, participate in "the ancient condition of philosophy as beginning in wonder," while, at the same time, reflecting on how "wonder" may be grounded in ordinary events of daily living and revealed through the art of filmmaking ".(Everyday Wonders in Barbara Sternberg's Like a Dream that Vanishes, by William C. Wees)

What unites Sternberg’s disparate material is a concern with the temporality of all existence, a preoccupation not so much with death as with the fleetingness of every moment of experience. The themes of the film are closely tied to fundamental aspects of cinema: the image perpetually vanishes, only to be replaced, instantaneously, by another image.” (Chris Gehman)

In the Collection of: Ryerson University Library

Like a Dream that Vanishes credits
Producer/Director/Writer: Barbara Sternberg
Length: 40 minutes
Year of Production: 1999
Music: Rainer Wiens
Country of Production: Canada
Exhibition format: 16mm
Preview format: vhs

Available from: Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre
telephone: 416-588-0725, e-mail:

telephone: 331-46590153 e-mail:


Like a Dream that Vanishes Transcript (English transcript)
Like a Dream that Vanishes Transcript (French transcript)
Like a Dream that Vanishes by Barbara Goslawski
Children, Nature, Fragmentation: An Idiosyncratic Review of the New York Film Festival's "Views from the Avant-Garde" by Craig Fischer
“NYFF 2000” by Brian Frye, IndieWire
Everyday Wonders in Barbara Sternberg's Like a Dream that Vanishes by William C. Wees
Like a Dream that Vanishes by Janine Marchessault
Film Production Grant application, April 1, 1998
Chris Gehman, Broken Pencil





Barbara Sternberg © 2011
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