“There are undoubtedly elements of satire in the film but our aim wasn’t only to take the piss out of artists,” this was Chris Lewort’s statement on his hilarious mockumentary, The Art Bastard Show; a 45-minute production on the art scene in Bristol. “I think the art world is traditionally something that takes itself very seriously but is in many ways quite hilarious, so much of it is like the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Lewort quotes the famous Hans Christian Anderson story with the moral message of self-realisation and honesty, both of which are seen in The Art Bastard Show.
The unique plot was inspired by a comic book written by Leah Ellen Heming and Tom Plant. “The comic was made from the perspective of two downtrodden illustrators mocking the trendy Bristol art scene. Tom and Leah were planning to put on an exhibition of fake art by fictitious artists and asked me to make a film installation for one of the art works. When we talked more about it we developed the idea that we could make a mockumentary about one of the artists and show it as part of the exhibition. This idea grew and grew.” It most certainly did and the result of it was a clever and comical mockumentary.
The four main characters in the film are London-born curator Vicky, graffiti artist Vaj, vegan taxidermist Lily and conceptual artist Toby. Each character brings a unique and comedic personality to the scene, and despite Lewort’s report that the characters were “inspired by real people but not based on them,” he believes that some of the characters could only be seen in Bristol. “There are definitely Bristol-specific characters: Vaj could only have come from Brizzle and Lily could only be found foraging for vegan flapjacks in St Werburghs.”
The mockumentary was a long project of hard work and “was a labour of love by an incredible team that all worked for free as we had no budget,” Lewort praises. “The amazing thing about everyone working for free was that they all believed in the project enough to give their time to it. What made it difficult is that everyone had to do what they could in their free time, and therefore everything took a lot longer.” Conflicting schedules led to the project being edited, rewritten and reshot, resulting in a four-year long project, but it was undoubtedly worth the wait.
Chris knew the team of actors before he started creating his film. “The actors were a comedy troupe called The Dog Eared Collective that I had seen many times over the years doing sketch shows, as I knew Jenny (who plays Lily). The fact that they did sketches was brilliant because it meant that I had seen them play lots of different characters in lots of different contexts so I felt like I knew their strengths.” This gave Chris the confidence and the desire to convince them to be part of his hit mockumentary. By having the actors know each other, it meant that “they wrote all their own material, they were used to improvising together, and were adept at being rude to each other. The script was mainly improvised. We wrote agendas and plot points for the scenes but relied on the actors to bounce off each other and make it funny.”
Despite the short film being a mockumentary, it was pitched all over social media as a real documentary. On their website, on their social media accounts and even on the news, it was hard to decide if this production was a documentary or a mockumentary. However, the reception to the film has been hugely positive since its release. “We have had some great responses to showing the film, which has been heartwarming. I have had quite a few people tell me that they didn’t realise that it was a spoof until halfway through, which I absolutely love.” The response to some scenes of the film, however, perhaps had a negative impact when the Bristol press believed that the graffiti artist, Vaj, truly defaced the Queen Victoria Statue: even the Daily Mail believed it. According to Chris, “Vaj was interviewed by a lot of reputable journalists who would have realised with even the most basic research that she was in fact a fictional character. It’s a strange world where your online presence can be more real than your physical self.”
After the widespread acclaim for The Art Bastard Show, what is next for Chris Lewort? “The long-term goal is to make a living only from the independent films and I am currently writing a feature film called Folly’s Rest, which is a love story set in a residential home. However, I would love to turn The Art Bastard Show into a six-part TV series with a decent budget.”