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Joyful Threads Productions Presents

Common Notions:

Handbook Not Required


Common Notions: Handbook Not Required

A documentary exploring youth liberation, friendship, and community through the lens of the Purple Thistle Centre; a youth-run arts and activism space in east Vancouver.

• FILM CATEGORY: Documentary
• RUNNING TIME: 37 min 20 sec
• FILMING LOCATION: Mexico, Canada





“Perhaps half of humankind today, have nothing that they can call real community, real commons, and then how we can create the new commons, the new possibilities of the community…” What does it look like to create alternatives, here and now, to the social isolation, hyper-individualism, the ongoing disappearance of community space, and the exclusion of youth from the world? “I think that we leave young people out of really important conversations –out of work– they’re in a bubble, they’re hidden away and we’re losing out …”

Open for 15 years, The Purple Thistle Centre in East Vancouver was a unique project that continues to inspire folks from all over the world. A free, open, and collectively run youth art and activism space, the Thistle itself is a testament to the capacity to co-create the worlds we want — the communities we strive for — when we work together.

The film explores what made the Thistle a thriving space, as a flexible institution that was animated by trust and horizontal relationships with youth in their own communities. Shot on location in both Vancouver and Mexico, Common Notions is narrated by Carla Bergman, the last adult director at the Thistle. The story weaves together interviews with radical education theorists Matt Hern, Astra Taylor, Gustavo Esteva, Khelsilem, Richard J. F. Day and madhu suri prakash with Thistle founders, and as well as youth collective members. We hope the film will inspire more curiosity and conversation about how we can build social movements that include all members of our communities, and create a more just and thriving world together.

Technical Details

• ASPECT RATIO: 1.78 (16×9 VIDEO)

Directors Statement

We made Common Notions because we wanted to tell the story about the Purple Thistle, a youth-run arts and activism center in east Vancouver that was open for almost 15 years. More specifically, we wanted to tell the story about youth liberation, and how creating alternatives to school where youth can both fully author their own lives and engage directly with their community, is necessary for creating more dynamic and thriving communities.

In 2009, Carla became the co-director of the Purple Thistle and one of the things she noticed immediately was that folks from all over the world were interested in the Thistle, in particular how it worked (the nuts and bolts), and what it was that the Thistle actually did… The answer to most of these emails was that there wasn’t a simple ‘just add water’ recipe on the how to, and that we would happily host any visitors anytime. One thing was clear: folks wanted to hear about the Thistle. Carla approached her friend and the Film mentor at the Thistle, Corin (the co- director/co-producer of Common Notions) and asked if she’d like to collaborate on this film with some youth at the Thistle. She thankfully said yes!

It was important to us that we built this story with the youth and the community members who were directly involved with the Thistle. We met often with the collectives of youth who were at the Thistle during the years that we made the film and we spent a lot of time in conversation with the founders of the project.

In grounding our work in community, it meant that this film took five years to make. Early on, we realized that the story was bigger than the Thistle, so we dug further, connecting our conversations with scholars, youths and activists to larger conversations about social justice, radical education and youth liberation. This led us to travel to Mexico with a crew of Thistle youth to explore similar projects and to meet a huge inspiration to us personally and to the Thistle, Gustavo Esteva.

Our hope is that by creating this film, we can help point to the crucial need for inspired and inspiring youth-run spaces. And while the film doesn’t provide a blueprint for creating a new Thistle we hope that the Common Notions that we outline, and that were an integral part of what made the Thistle thrive, will help to plants seeds for future conversations and questions among youth and their community interested in the intersections between art, activism and youth liberation.

The Thistle was a deeply meaningful place for an entire generation of young people in Vancouver and its loss still resonates. We loved making this film with the Thistle community and we hope it can play a role to help keep the ideas and intentions behind the Thistle alive far into the future.

We are currently off making plans for our next film under our production company, Joyful Threads Productions!


carla bergman is a filmmaker, writer and activist who spends much of her time with her partner, kids and friends in east Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories. She is co-director of EMMA Talks, a speaker’s series by women. carla was previously the director of the Purple Thistle — a youth run arts and activism centre. She continues this important work as an administrator and consultant supporting youth initiatives through the Thistle Institute. She has worked for over 15 years primarily with youth creating projects, mentoring, facilitating workshops and making a variety of publications.
carla co-founded the art and activist publication RAIN, worked with car free day Vancouver as a core organizer and co-founded the Thistle Institute, an alternative to university, in 2011. carla has joyful threads in many other initiatives and projects near and far, with incredible artists, thinkers and activist. She just completed her first Film, Common Notions: Handbook Not Required, and was one of the editors of the AK Press book: Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook For Youth, and is currently working on a book about Joy. To find out about future films, check out Joyful Threads Production (www.joyfulthreadsproductions.com)

Corin Browne is a filmmaker, media educator, and community engaged artist who lives, works
and parents in east Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territories. In addition to independent film work, Corin is the co-artistic director of Housing Matters Media Project, founding member of the nationally recognized Summer Visions Film Institute for Youth, and Resident Filmmaker at Templeton Secondary School where she has been joyfully mentoring young media makers for an entire generation. With an academic background in critical media education (MA Communication, SFU) and digital media production, Corin is interested in creating media-based projects that explore notions of community, place, radical democracy, social justice and memory. Corin’s projects have ranged from a low-watt pirate television project to Bollywood-style Public Service Announcements educating farmworkers about pesticide contamination and large-scale, multi-phased media-art projects exploring the impact of the housing crisis on young artists and youth living in government care (www.housingmattersmedia.com). Her recent projects include Lovable, a community engaged media project exploring body positivity with young women, and EMMA Talks, a women’s speaker series.

As the Senior Editor and Post Production Producer for the Multi-Media Division of Metro
Vancouver (formerly the Greater Vancouver Regional District or GVRD) John has a key role in the award-winning program The Sustainable Region (2012 Leo Award – Information or Lifestyle Series). He also oversees the regional district’s online video gallery, which offers over 1000 videos on topics relating to sustainability, infrastructure, and policy. In addition, John collaborates with a number of independent film makers, providing his expertise and advice on a variety of productions, ranging from full-length documentaries to satirical short films. John’s film making passion is strongly rooted in social justice, housing, and environmental themes. Working in film and television for the last 15 years as an editor, visual effects artist, and producer, John has covered a lot of creative ground. John has a keen understanding of sustainability cultural issues and trends facing our region. John has developed a keen talent at developing narratives that address complex subjects and ideas.