JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?
DIANA COFINI: Award-winning Actress of Stage and Screen, classically trained in Theatre, Music and Dance, with Honours Degrees from the University of Toronto, Sheridan College and Royal Conservatory of Music. She wore many hats, behind the camera, on multi-award-winning projects ‘The Camps’ and ‘That Never Happened’, and is producing feature films.
JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?
DC: I love untold stories of Human history that deal with the clashing of cultures, War and that we ultimately need Peace for survival. There is a reason Jews say “Shalom” and that Roman Catholics say “Peace be with you” during Mass. Peace is the easiest thing to take for granted and Peace is truly the best thing we can get. ‘Enemy Aliens’ and ‘Nobody’s Angel’, two of the films I am currently producing, both deal with this.
In ‘Nobody’s Angel’ and two other projects I am looking at, the common thread, or what I want to represent, is the divine feminine and the woman’s point of view.
‘Nobody’s Angel’ is a feature film based on the stage play by Douglas Beattie about a woman who refuses to be just another casualty of war and sets out on a journey, amid danger and deprivation, to become mistress of her own destiny. It takes place 120 km south of Rome, near the end of WWII, when martial law has been imposed and Italy is occupied by both the Germans and Allied Forces.
JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.
DC: Sophia Loren is one of Italy’s most beloved Actresses. Sophia’s outer beauty is surpassed only by her legendary performances in films including ‘La Ciociara’ (Two Women) and ‘Matrimonio all’italiana’ among many others. Unlike many of her peers and fellow Icons of Cinema, Sophia has been married to one man her entire life and has raised two sons and a beautiful extended family.
Leonardo Da Vinci, My favourite Artist of all time and a great thinker, innovator and the quintessential Renaissance man.
JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?
DC: I’ve been creative as far back as I can remember, with a thirst to not only express myself creatively, but to constantly learn and grow. I’ve changed as a person continuously as we all do through Life. I’ve just never not been immersed in one Art form or another, and as Life has changed me, my Mediums have changed. And vice versa.
JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?
DC: Creating a life and environment from which to create.
Never enough creative time.
Rebuilding/restoring the Life (relationships) and environment from which to create, which suffers while creating.
JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.
DC: There were a number of really big turning points in my Life from age 18 – 20 or so. One was when I was in a very dark place during a tumultuous time in my Family and couldn’t really dance or sing or play piano like I used to. I had difficulty accessing those worlds and expressing myself there. And suddenly one day, it was as if a door opened, to a room I never knew existed. I entered the Realm of Acting for the first time and Life has never been the same since…
JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?
DC: That they have no idea about what I do, or what the industry is, but they think they know!
JC: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?
DC: That’s impossible for me to answer, as I liken that question to asking me how and why I was born…. It would be very fun to discuss all the possibilities as to how and why one is born, though. And why one was born with certain gifts, abilities, born into a particular family and culture, etc. Who knows!
JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?
DC: Every Artist wants to do something they have not done before. I’ve Acted and I’ve produced. For me, what’s next is starring in films that I produce and/or have a hand in creating.
And some day, I would love to appear on a show like “Nashville” in which I can both Act and Sing.
JS: Of what value are critics?
DC: I’ve always liked the quote from Jean Sibelius: “…A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.”
In this business, you need articles, reviews and publicity. And, of course, I don’t mean to disrespect those who choose to be Critics as a profession. But in general, you know, in Life, I prefer to be on the Field playing the game than sitting in the stands critiquing. And (this is distinct from the profession of being a Critic, but another form of criticism in the vein of “everyone’s a critic!”), I detest Gossip of every kind. I detest the part of Celebrity Culture that has most people speculating about people’s personal lives and critiquing them, waiting for them to slip up. This vicious jealousy, and scrutiny. For example, I don’t like that in my doing this Interview I am opening myself up to scrutiny and gossip, but I do it because it may help spread the word about my projects and I believe my projects have important messages.
JS: What do you ask of your audience?
DC: NOTHING. If I have an audience, I tell the story, then I say “Thank you”. I know many of the Greats ask for the audience to actively take part in the storytelling, I’ve heard things like “each word I send them is a pearl and I hold one end of the string and the audience holds the other end, and if they pull their end tightly the pearl will reach them…” something to that effect. But not me. If they’ve shown up, the rest is my job. I mean, maybe the obvious thing, like, don’t have your phone on, or disturb those around you etc. but again, that’s not my job to ask, someone else always asks that.
JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?
DC: Artists all over the world have always and will always seek to change the world and make some kind of an important impact. I personally have a stand for women and children, and for Peace. The World needs more of the feminine, and more of the female gaze. It needs more of the female way of considering all facets of complicated issues, our way of being able to hold many ideas at once and negotiate between all of those many, sometimes conflicting ideas and needs. In other words, we can multi-task in every way, even in terms of weighing and understanding the emotions of many different parties. We rarely take a position or direction that doesn’t account for and value more than just our own needs and wants. Unfortunately, women and children have had a bad deal for millennia, and I think a good place to start is to show that through Film. This was a major driving force for me in making the feature documentary ‘That Never Happened’ and it’s what I am up to with the feature film ‘Nobody’s Angel’. Through my films I would like to hold up the lens to real events, real man-made, human history with a focus on women.
JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?
DC: A lot of pressure. Especially in terms of my appearance. The good news is that I am now at once, both more fearful and less fearful. In other words, I’m less confident in my appearance (less to my own standard of beauty), while being less inhibited and more willing to show my flaws.
JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.
DC: I’ve travelled A LOT and love to travel. There are many wonderful places I have been, but not one of them stands out as a desire even half as much as going home to Italy, especially to Rome. I’d like to return and spend time in Italy, every year.
I’ve never had the chance to go to Switzerland, and we are currently in talks with the Mission of Canada to the UN to discuss the possibility of bringing ‘That Never Happened’ to Geneva for the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. If this happens, it will certainly be a dream come true in many ways…
JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?
DC: ‘That Never Happened: Canada’s First National Internment Operations’ is a documentary film that sheds light on a dark chapter of Canadian History which was nearly lost forever. It shows the hard work, organization and grit of the few good men and women who worked for over 25 years to get it acknowledged by the Government and finally put back into the Education system. It is at once both a story of triumph (theirs) and a story of tragedy, that innocent people were wrongfully imprisoned and how the internment operations affected men, women and children and future generations. ‘That Never Happened’ shows the multi-generational impact of injustice and why this story from 100 years ago is relevant today.
JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?
DC: What gives me great encouragement is the push for female-driven stories and the push for women to tell more stories.
Depressing? Hm… As an Actor, there are so many gatekeepers, and everyone is doing the best job they can, but sometimes it feels, that you are very much an outsider. If you are not on the Casting director’s short list of favourites and go-to actors that they bring in again and again, it feels like “will I ever break through?” and you may never… but then again you may. So, I find the best balance is to be creating and making my own work, while collaborating with an Acting Agent who can send me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise see or know about. My agent is Jana Abrams (Jana Abrams Talent Agency) and I love working with her; she totally has my back and I feel like I could tell her anything.
JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?
DC: As an Actor, part of my job is to know myself. A process that continues with each and every character I inhabit who inevitably inhabits me, whether that is for a single day or for many months, and sometimes she stays with me for years, in that she remains accessible to me any time. I don’t really find anything about myself intriguing at this point. In fact, the best I can do to answer this question now, is that I’ve recently realized there is absolutely nothing “special” about me; we are all so similar (human beings), my need to be or prove that I am special is just a survival mechanism and an illusion. What’s intriguing about me is what is intriguing about every single human being. We’re all wired for survival, we each have a brain whose function is to predict the future so that we can try to survive it, and the mind uses past experiences as a way to predict, prevent, avoid, dominate, survive the future. Every time I remind myself about this nonsense and become present to it, I remember that none of it matters and I am able to find the present moment. In the present moment, which is the only place Being (good Acting is Being) can live, I can listen to what my heart, passion and intuition all tell me and take actions from there. I guess I also find it intriguing how there are always blind spots, and when you are able to turn and look at the blind spot, it disappears. Then in no-time there will be another blind spot. It can be really funny…