Bold Documentary Debut ‘Art as Catharsis’ Finds Light in the Cracks

Reinventing trauma with each decisive daub of her paintbrush, artist and filmmaker Amber Bardell explores and pays homage to the restorative powers of art and artistic expression. Thoughtfully weaving together interviews with multimedia creatives, the audience is taken on a journey through the various mediums, reflecting the limitless resources and possibilities available to help us re-centre after a trauma.

As the 30-minute documentary begins, we learn that Bardell was caught up in a terrorist attack in Paris in 2017. Locked within the most famous art museum in the world and forbidden from leaving, she found herself compelled by her surroundings to draw as a way to cope with her rising panic, consequently making her realise that creativity had therapeutic effects. She recreates the event through stop-motion animation – in her instantly recognisable colour palette – and immersive sound design, reflecting her symbiotic creative approach that continues both in her personal work and within the realm of ‘art’ the documentary explores.

Bardell introduces us to artists from all walks of life, all over the globe: Matthew is a pipe-tootling eccentric who whiles away his days whittling in his workshop in the Tasmanian countryside, connecting with the power of natural materials. Shivani, whose art is a “meditation on memory,” echoes Bardell’s initial statement that revisiting memories, particularly in an abstract way in line with memories’ shifting forms, can be an emotional experience. Gabriel Choto’s unique artwork, in which he inserts his own face onto sketches of his family, forges a way to reconnect with his Zimbabwean heritage and cope with family loss. Molly, who can’t be older than eight years old and whose Dad had passed away two years previously, explains how the different colours in her abstract paintings allow her to form one collective, yet multi-stranded emotion. Tattoo artist Carrie lets us in on the liberation of self-tattooing, and “not having to ask someone else permission to change [her] body.” We meet the people running the Meath Epilepsy Charity, who run various artistic workshops from photography to pottery to furniture upcycling. At West Street Potters, resources are given to people who may be preoccupied with the digital world during the day, but want to be creative with their hands in their free time.

As we meet all these wildly varied characters, Bardell doesn’t need to probe too hard for us to see just how imperative art and creativity has been on these people’s lives, whether they have suffered from trauma or not. Their appreciation and love for their respective mediums is boldly apparent, with each story flowing effortlessly into the next. 

What also shines through the documentary is the care and sentiment that pours out of each frame. Bardell is clearly a thoughtful filmmaker intimately involved with her work on both an analytical and instinctual level. What could have been a closed focus on one art form spanned from textiles to tattooing, photography to pottery. Her gorgeous production design and colour grading gives the documentary a truly artistic and painterly feel, with a predilection for ochre and terracotta colour harmonies almost reflecting the tones of Klimt or a Dutch Golden Age painting. This thoughtfulness transcends the film itself, with Bardell sharing diversity statistics for her cast and crew on Instagram in an bid to encourage transparency in the filmmaking process. 
Art as Catharsis screened at Future First Anniversary Screening and will be released shortly. In the meantime, follow Amber’s upcoming projects via her Instagram, where she is open to commissions and co-directs the !GWAK art collective.

by Steph Green

Steph Green is a journalist and film critic with bylines in New Statesman, Little White Lies, Girls on Tops, Vogue Paris, Reader’s Digest and more. She also edits the film news section of The Indiependent. Some of her favourite films are The 400 Blows, Memento, Body Double and Call Me By Your Name, but she’s pretty much at her happiest with a bowl of ramen and an episode of Gilmore Girls. She’s normally found wittering about film on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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