William Kelly, artist and peace activist, has been called the ‘moral conscience’ of Australian Art. For him there’s no line between life and art. Can Art Stop a Bullet is a documentary about the man himself and centered around an art piece he’s making for the State Library of Victoria. The film explores the connections between art and activism and how imagery in their own way can change people’s view on things happening in the world, their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Kelly’s art project will combine former pieces of his career and art that has inspired him throughout his life, in a collage of drawings that will tell a story of their own. He narrates the process of this important art piece, starting by taking us to his hometown in Buffalo, NY, where he explains how words and literature were his ways of escaping to another world, until he visited an art gallery with school and decided to start drawing. He also sits down with activists and artists from all over the globe, who’s activism and the idiocy of war inspired powerful work that left an impact on the art world and those who get a chance to be affected by its compelling messages.

Mark Street has worked in the tv and film industry for the last 25 years and met Kelly whilst producing a documentary on the development of art in regional Victorian towns. His film is respectful to all those involved in the making of it, taking careful and humanitarian standpoints to highlight the importance of art in changing people’s views on the world. It’s exactly those at times uncomfortable images that have a lasting effect and make us ask the right questions. “The worst enemy of an artist is sentiment” as actor/activist Martin Sheen (Grace and Frankie) says. He and many other Hollywood actors who spoke out about human rights have been arrested in the past, but find the naked truth in art necessary, even though it can come across unpleasant to some of us.

Dedicating your art to social issues and human rights instead of being just a pretty picture on the wall, gives a notable voice to those who otherwise stay voiceless. And that’s exactly what Kelly has been doing throughout his entire career. The most heartbreaking part of Can Art Stop a Bullet is an entire segment on Aboriginal art and Indigenous people and their rights in Australia. Art historian Professor Sasha Grishin points out how the longest war in Australia is that with the Indigenous people of this country. They had to suffer through 200 years of genocide by the hands of European colonisers, and although the Aboriginal Memorial is a great work of art, it bares the question why it’s hidden in an art gallery in Canberra and not displayed at the capital’s war memorial, where it belongs?! The film dives even further into a dark part of Australia’s nuclear history where at least 12 nuclear bombs were tested in WA, without evacuating Indigenous communities who were also misinformed on the dangers of nuclear effects on humans and nature. Anti-nuclear activist Rose Lester‘s confession is shockingly honest and sends chills all over your body.

The optimism in the interviewees and the possibilities in the art that gets presented during the film, is encouraging enough to leave a positive impression. Can Art Stop a Bullet never avoids topics such as the war in Syria, Abu Ghraib, school shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, going exactly there were other art documentaries tend to draw a visible line they rarely dare to cross. Educational, essential viewing for every living creature that believes the world can be a better place than it is right now.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Can Art Stop a Bullet’ is screening as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Access HERE

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Can Art Stop a Bullet’

Reviewed online, July 1, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: Producer: Fiona Cochrane.

CREW: Director/camera: Mark Street. Editor: Daniella Raulli.

STARRING: William Kelly, Martin Sheen, Dr. Rama Mani, Nick Ut, Luis Iriondo, Zakia Bassou, Raymond Watson, Gelareh Pour, A C Grayling, Sasha Grishin.

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