Ārka: A psychoanalytical art film by Leila Bartell

Woman in stage performance on dark set dressed in dark clothing

Lead actor Laura Bailey sits down with the director to talk about her latest project and the importance of collaboration

By Laura Bailey. Introduction by Ollie Horne

Ārka is a short art film by film-maker and artist Leila Bartell, featuring Laura Bailey – the model, photographer and British Vogue contributing editor. ‘I’ve long been an admirer of Leila’s work in art and film,’ says Bailey. ‘It was a pleasure and an honour to be directed by her.’ 

Filming took place in December 2020 between the UK’s two winter lockdowns in a disused power station in London. The film is inspired by ‘the idea of transcending one’s inner limitations,’ says Bartell. And the lead was written with Bailey in mind. ‘The character has the intensity and strong presence that Laura naturally possesses, and this is echoed powerfully in her performance.’ 

The short film is a visceral presentation of contorted movements by Bailey and five dancers, with dramatic lighting bringing the eerie, tomb-like quality of the disused industrial space to life. A soundtrack of deep bass, chiming bells and prayer bowls heighten the esoteric quality of the piece. There is a subtle narrative to the abstract choreography, too: the dancers appear to have a mysterious hold on Bailey’s character, until she transcends their power.

Ārka has several meanings, and derives from Sanskrit. ‘For me, it means “into the light”, which is what happens to our heroine; she transcends herself, and light represents that growth,’ says Bartell. 

Read on for a conversation between Bailey and Bartell below. 

Woman in stage performance on dark set dressed in dark clothing
Three people in a row captured close up leaning backwards in stage performance

Laura Bailey: What did you set out to achieve with Ārka?
Leila Bartell:Ārka is a visceral exploration of one’s consciousness, and an invitation for the viewer to dive into the head of a timeless heroine, played by you, and to identify with her journey. The film expresses the torment caused by a contradiction between the mind and the soul, and the exhilarating feeling of transcending it.’

What did you aim to bring out in my performance?  
‘I have huge respect for you, both intellectually and creatively, and I always thought there was this powerful intensity about you that I really wanted to capture on camera. You have different talents and wear different hats – photographer, writer, and model. In this, I wanted you to be an actor and a dancer, and to give a raw, uninhibited performance.’

I experienced extraordinary solidarity and support on set. Tell me how you build a team for filming, and what values matter most to you? 
‘Film is such a collaborative process. Everyone’s input is equally valuable, so it’s vital that everyone’s on the same page. If they are, then there can be trust. It’s hugely important that everyone is passionate and committed to the project we’re working on. I find the time with the crew on set truly exhilarating. It’s the best part of the process, and I always make sure to be calm, respectful and show appreciation for the hard work and passion everyone is putting in, in any situation.

‘As a director, I look for talent, and for people whose work I love. I have some regular collaborators, such as sound designer Pär Carlsson and composer Nia Burke. I’m also developing an amazing relationship with my cinematographer Keith Gubbins, who created beautiful images for Ārka and my previous drama short, Hidden.’

Woman in stage performance on dark set dressed in dark clothing

Describe the challenges, and the joys, of working and creating in these times.
‘In the midst of the pandemic, there were moments when I worried about pulling this off with things changing at short notice all the time. It was also important to keep everyone motivated. But the joys – as I’m sure you’ll agree, having been part of this journey – were that every time we’d move a step forward, adapt, and find a solution, sometimes even for the better, in the face of ever-changing circumstances.’

In addition to being a director, you’re also a painter. What have you been up to in this area?
‘I was part of a wonderful group exhibition held in Fulham Town Hall in London, called Art In The Age Of Now. I’m also working on a new large-scale series of paintings that I hope to exhibit in the autumn.’

What are your inspirations/ who are your heroes?
‘My heroes are people who push through despite adversity and do it with grace and kindness. As for inspiration, it can be something I see, a situation witnessed, a moment, a place, a dream, a piece of music or a painting. It’s everywhere.’



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