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Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1963
Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1963

This June, an innovative festival concept explores the links between creativity and mental health in events across London

Who? Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Plath… even Churchill suffered from depression, dubbing it the black dog. With one in four of us experiencing mental health problems every year, anxiety seems to be part of our contemporary condition. The Anxiety Arts Festival (curated by the Mental Health Foundation) explores the causes of anxiety, how it affects us, but also how it can be a force for creativity.

Gena Rowlands in Opening Night, 1977, directed by John Cassavetes
Gena Rowlands in Opening Night, 1977, directed by John Cassavetes
What? A cleverly curated programme of art, film, performance, music, dance and theatre will tackle mental health from some unexpected and ingenious angles. The film strand reveals how anxiety has been portrayed on the silver screen over the years, from Hitchcock’s 1927 fog-filled thriller The Lodger to Xiaolu Guo’s 2013 filmic essay on the pressures of 21st century capitalism, Late at Night. There are futuristic films that indicate the anxieties of the present, such as Tarkovsky’s dreamlike Solaris, and those that explore what can happen when we snap – as with Julianne Moore’s rich Californian housewife in Todd Haynes’ Safe. The trauma of war is addressed in stunning animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s quest to unearth the dark memories lurking in the furthest recesses of his mind; the fragmented flashbacks that begin to drip into his conscious – a dead soldier reflected in a horse’s blank eye, a pack of slathering dogs rampaging through a shadowy cityscape, are achingly powerful. Agnes Varda’s nouvelle vague Cleo from 5 – 7 follows a beautiful French singer into the depths of an existential crisis, while John Cassavetes’ overlooked 1977 drama Opening Night features one of the most astonishing performances ever committed to celluloid: Gena Rowlands rages like a raw, flickering nerve as an aging, alcoholic actress tripping along the brink of emotional breakdown.

Why? The list of artists whose genius seems to be intertwined, even forged, in the fire of their internal demons is seemingly endless. If creativity has often come hand-in-hand with “a breath of wind from the wings of madness” as Baudelaire put it, exploring mental health through the arts should be a cathartic process.

The Anxiety Arts Festival runs until July 11.

Text by Hannah Lack

Hannah Lack is Literary Editor for AnOther Magazine, Managing Editor for Another Man and Arts & Culture Editor for Dazed.

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