From Kathryn Barton: ‘I wasn’t prepared for how much the story would provoke me again’ |  australian film

From Kathryn Barton: ‘I wasn’t prepared for how much the story would provoke me again’ | australian film

Del Kathryn Barton thought she was psychologically resilient enough to make a film based on a traumatic experience in her own life.

She was wrong.

The Australian artist’s debut as film director and co-writer, Blaze, is not autobiographical, but is informed by something that happened to Barton as a child. It tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Blaze who witnesses the rape and murder of a woman.

“I had done decades of therapy and felt ready to tell the story,” says Barton, 49, sitting in her studio in Paddington, inner Sydney.

“But no, I wasn’t prepared for the degree to which it would trigger me again, and I’ve had some very, very difficult times, and I want to be honest about that,” she says. “I came in feeling so resilient and I’m back in therapy… I’m in a very supportive place so I feel very blessed, but no, it’s been very, very hard, and I don’t say that lightly. ”

Blaze, which opens this month, is a hybrid of naturalistic drama and fantasy sequences, featuring elaborate costumes and stop-motion animation. It stars Julia Savage in the title role, who was 13 years old when the film was made; and Orange is New Black star Yael Stone as Hannah, who is raped and murdered in a Sydney alleyway.

Barton doesn’t want to discuss the details of his own trauma, but confirms that it happened when he was Blaze’s age in the mid-1980s, when the family lived in Castle Hill.

By the time Stone met Barton, he had already turned down the part, finding the film’s subject matter appealing but the role “horrible”. She wanted to meet Barton anyway, and she recalls: “She was in big trouble because she was so brilliantly fascinating and warm and interesting and engaging.” She agreed, telling Barton that she wanted to make sure she could mentor whoever she played Blaze, given the “traps” that exist for young actors in the industry.

Stone was “amazing,” says Barton. “She really wanted me to know, and it was a great gift, that she had never suffered any type of [physical] sexual violence, and that she really wanted to present herself as a conduit for other women’s stories. That was very meaningful to her.”

In 2018, Stone alleged that Geoffrey Rush engaged in inappropriate behavior when the pair were performing in a 2010 production of The Diary of a Madman, claims he denies. “I can’t deny that that’s part of my story, my public story,” he says now, praising the women who led the #MeToo conversation in Australia.

“Certainly people very close to me have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence. There are a lot of doors to the house, and for some people it’s about political work and it’s about reform, and for Del it’s through his art, and obviously the film is this beautiful testament to healing through creativity.” .

Julia Savage in Blaze.
‘A fierce little lady’: Julia Savage in Blaze. Photography: Tanja Bruckner

Barton describes Savage as a “fierce little lady”, who “identified as a feminist from the age of five”. She got the audition by performing an “anger dance”, seen towards the end of the film, which the director believes connects the audience to the “emotional and physical experience” of trauma.

Throughout the film, the character of Blaze finds solace in a large, benevolent dragon named Zephyr, depicted in a four-meter-tall suit designed by Barton as a nostalgic nod to his own childhood and “that beautiful idea that, as we transition into adulthood. , we do not allow our inner dragons to crawl into their caves and stop roaring fearlessly.”

So is Blaze’s story also Del Kathryn Barton’s story, or is that too literal a reading? “It’s a bit of both,” says Barton.

“I definitely never want to say that the film is autobiographical, but it is informed by personal experience.”

When Barton was young, his parents, Wesley and Karen, moved their three children to an Angora goat farm by the Hawkesbury River, where they lived in a large circus-like tent for a couple of years while Wesley tidied up an old farmhouse. . “We moved to the countryside as a response to what happened [to me] in the suburbs. That was my father’s way of dealing with it.”

Now that the film is finished, Barton doesn’t know if he will show it to his “eccentric” father, who is unwell. “I almost want to shield him from that experience, I guess,” he muses. When he talks about his late mother, Karen, he apologizes for looking behind me in the studio, “like there’s a ghost or something.”

Both parents were idealistic teachers about education; Karen worked at a Steiner school and advised her daughter that she be true to her passion for her art. Barton, a two-time Archibald Award winner who is now preparing for her first exhibition in Los Angeles, believes imagination is crucial to healing.

“I’m on medication now, and it’s a game changer for me: I’m definitely not anti-establishment or anti-psychiatry,” she says. “[But] we live in… a society that is too anesthetized that teaches people to fear pain, fear chaos and body trauma – fuck, the hard man of life; life is confusing [rather than] sit in uncomfortable places and stay calm and find magic there.”

Barton has long suffered from social anxiety, which is at odds with his outgoing nature and raucous laugh.

“I know, and I almost kicked myself a little bit, because I know I’m a very good faker,” he says. “But I really love people and I feel like, especially in a directing capacity, you really need to bring a certain energy into a room to get people going, but that takes a lot of me.”

2008 Archibald Prize-winning painting by Del Kathryn Barton: You are the most beautiful thing about me, a self-portrait with Kell and Arella.
2008 Archibald Prize winning painting by Del Kathryn Barton, titled ‘You are the most beautiful thing about me, a self-portrait with Kell and Arella’. Photography: Art Gallery of NSW

Barton is married to a “full-blown introverted pathological nerd,” a financial services executive whom she credits with helping her understand herself. The couple have two children, a son and a daughter, who were featured in Barton’s Archibald Award-winning self-portrait in 2008.

Barton sees female anger against the silencing of women as an important “generative” force.

“For me, there is a difference between anger and rage,” says Barton. “[Rage is] when I have managed to do the cognitive work, to identify more what is happening in the emotional self… and by feeling it and expressing it on one level, I am freeing it, so that it does not paralyze me”.

She also sees it as a collective energy, with great potential: “If it’s out in the open and recognized as a valid emotion, then I think a lot of healing can happen in that moment.”

Yael Stone, who “totally validates Del’s experience,” has a different answer: “For me, anger has been pretty destructive in my life, even personal anger,” she says. “I think anger as a motivator can be very powerful…but anger alone for me has been caustic.” Being able to access her own anger is “an incredible gift” when so many women cannot, “but also a power that must be exercised with a sense of responsibility.”

Julia Savage and Simon Baker in Blaze.
Julia Savage and Simon Baker in Blaze. Photography: Roadway Films

Simon Baker plays Blaze’s doting single father, puzzled as to how he can help his daughter cope with what she has witnessed. One of the purposes of the film, Barton says, is to show people how to help and listen to those who have been traumatized.

“We live in a world where men have been taught to fix things, and really, everything Blaze needs from [her father]the greatest gift he can offer her is simply being there for her to understand her experience and trying to hold a place for that, not trying to protect her from it, not trying to tell her what she’s feeling.

“That takes time and there are no answers, and everyone’s healing journey is idiosyncratic and uniquely their own.”

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