Website last updated July 2011




10 minutes 16mm 1982

Transitions is a film of inner life and speaks of time, reality, power. It depicts the disquieting sensations of being in-between-between falling asleep and being awake, between here and there, between being and non-being. These metaphysical themes are evoked by the central image of a woman in white over which layers of images and sound (voices) are superimposed.

“Transitions is the most obviously dream-like of Sternberg's films. It centers, as its lone visual text tells us, on the "purgatory" between sleeping and waking, that intersection of the conscious and the unconscious most vivid for the insomniac. Superimposition is indeed the main device, allowing for a delicate but dense layering (sometimes up to four superimpositions at once) over the recurring image of a woman, dressed in white, laying down, and sitting up on a bed. This stream of the film is looped, and manipulated, sometimes superimposed over itself, with what could be called a nervous rhythm—in subtle contrast to the gentler motion of accompanying shots like a track past a snowscape, train tracks, waves at sea. Some images are disturbing, like the sudden inter-cuts to a swarm of bees—the most obviously surreal image of the film.

This urge to mimic the suspended time of insomnia is underscored by the soundtrack. It begins with the sound of wind, growing progressively louder, then fading to silence, followed in turn by a growing host of women's whispering voices. These voices, like a number of different ripples on a pool, in turn amplify and cancel each other out; their quality as sound is as important as the weight that the meaning of the words carry. We catch snippets of sentences, some cast as a refrain ("I've got to go to bed"; "change, change"), some shooting through with resonant clarity. ("When I dream there are no gaps.") These musing are alternately quotidian and philosophical, fascinating for the conceit that a meditation on time can inspire a loss of our ability to order and control our experience of time.” (Mike Zyrd)

“Barbara Sternberg’s beautifully textured Transitions explores the psychic architecture of a woman’s place. How do the spaces in which we dwell both express our desires and control them? A woman lies half way between sleep and wakefulness, not quite dreaming, not quite conscious in a luminosity that is paralyzing. Almost directly opposite Marin’s interpretation of place as visual permanence, Transitions presents a veritable acoustic space as voices, memories and sounds from the outside encase a woman’s body and consciousness.” (Fabulous Festival of Fringe Films, Durham, Janine Marchessault)

In the Collection of: Queens University Library
  York University Library

Transitions credits
Producer/Director/Writer: Barbara Sternberg
Length: 10 minutes
Year of Production: 1982
Sound: Barbara Sternberg
Country of Production: Canada
Exhibition format: 16mm
Preview format: vhs

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

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Transitions Transcript  
Independent Eye, Volume 10#2 Winter 1989 Body and Time: The films of Barbara Sternberg by Vivian Darroch-Lozowski
Northern Exposures 1995 (Catalogue)
"Living the Everyday as History": article by Barbara Godard
Recent Work from the CanadianAvant-Garde, 1988
Art Gallery of Ontario, by Michael Zryd
Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada, Gutter Press ‘97
"Transitions", by Mike Hoolboom



Transitions from B.Sternberg on Vimeo.

Barbara Sternberg © 2011
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