Isti Kaldor has been through a lot in his 34 years: His family emigrated from Hungary to the States when he was a boy; his sister had brain surgery when she was eleven; he broke his back in a kayaking accident; his mother died from lung cancer.

But that’s not all. Isti had a manic episode at 19, when he was a sophomore at Appalachian State. The attending psychiatrist at Duke University Hospital diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.

Since then, Isti has been hospitalized 15 times. After one of these manic episodes, he ended up in UNC Hospitals, where he picked up a paintbrush and palette knife. In that moment he discovered his calling.

Isti painting in his favorite studio—the outdoors

Chapel Hill filmmaker Kevin Cullen met Isti four years ago through a friend and was immediately struck by his candor and creativity. By the end of that first meeting, Kevin was determined to make a film exploring Isti’s journey living with bipolar disorder and his art.

Three years in the making, Kevin’s film, A Moment of Clarity, debuted at the Greensboro Public Library on October 3. Sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Greensboro and NAMI Guilford, the screening represented the film’s second showing in North Carolina

Both Kevin and Isti came to Greensboro for the screening and a panel discussion afterward. Kevin drove up from Atlanta, where he was doing a commercial shoot. Isti arrived from Durham in his paint-smudged car and wrestled out a huge, thickly textured, blue-hued painting. The two men, now fast friends, were a study in contrasts: Kevin, chipper and bouncy; Isti, stolid and reserved. Both spoke about their desire to raise awareness about mental health recovery.

Kevin, Isti, and NAMI Guilford president Kathy Hawkins at the Greensboro premiere of “A Moment of Clarity”

“I’ve found that there’s a huge misunderstanding of what bipolar disorder is,” Kevin said, “and that’s the reason why I thought that Isti’s openness in speaking about it, and me presenting the human side of the disorder, would be most helpful.”

The panel discussion following the film

For Isti, finding his identity as an artist has freed him in many ways. He has found passion and purpose, which he shares with others through teaching, speaking openly about his life, and exhibiting his emotionally charged paintings.

Isti works with young artists at the Carrack Modern Art in downtown Durham

As he says in the movie, “I’ve had to bear the brunt of the stigma that is attached to people like myself. And…I came to the realization that I’m kind of free of it, because I’m now a painter.”

The final minutes of A Moment of Clarity show Isti painting outdoors, transforming a bridge over a quiet waterway into an intense, swirling universe of blue. It looked like the painting he’d carried from his car to the Greensboro library. That painting stood near the podium, silent yet eloquent, testament to Isti’s talent and resiliency, his mind’s unique way of seeing and rendering the world.

Click here to learn more about A Moment of Clarity and upcoming screenings.