Yolanda Barker is an Irish-Polish film director, author and mental health advocate. She’s directed award-winning documentaries like ‘Cereal Killers’.
Born in Limerick city to an Irish father and Polish mother, her film making aspirations began at the age of eight, when she saw ‘The Little Mermaid’, and promptly decided she wanted to make films for Walt Disney.
In her teens, through a deepening understanding of her own mental health struggles, she became drawn to films that captured both the magic and the horror of life, like Roberto Benigni’s ‘Life is Beautiful’.
After moving to Dublin, she studied English Literature at University, and followed this with a one year filmmaking course. Here, she was introduced to the beauty of documentary filmmaking. Inspired by the work of documentary masters like Leo Regan and Nick Broomfield, she saw in documentary the potential to investigate and understand human nature.
After graduating, she immediately got a job as an editor, working for clients like Guinness and Jameson. In her spare time, she directed and edited her first feature documentary, ‘Drawing the Line’, about Irish graffiti artists.
In 2005, a (very unexpected) spiritual awakening changed the course of her life. She began exploring energy healing, yoga and meditation, but it was hard to get the information she wanted. Spiritual practices were very ”alternative” in Ireland at that time, and the internet was not that developed. She continued to work as an editor in Dublin, transitioning to TV and eventually working for R.T.E (the Irish equivalent of the BBC).
After a few years, she burnt out from full time work. She decided to go freelance, travel to India, immerse herself in spirituality, and make a documentary about what she found. She had no idea what she was letting herself in for, or how difficult it would be to make a nuanced film on such a complex topic. 12 years later, the result was ‘India, Calling’: a dark, yet beautiful film about spirituality, healing, and the human condition.
Agonising over ‘India, Calling’ didn’t stop Yolanda from working on other projects. In 2009 she moved to London, UK, and from 2011 to 2020 she directed five more documentaries. Produced by Donal O’Neil, these films focused on different aspects of nutritional science, the food industry, big pharma, and were more activist in nature. Titles included ‘Cereal Killers’, ‘Cereal Killers 2’, ‘The Big Fat Fix’, and ‘Extra Time’.
She also directed several short films and short animations. Her most successful of these was ‘After I Saw You’, made with Leah Pearlman, the artist behind the Buddhist comic strip, Dharma Comics. This two minute animation went viral upon release, featuring in dozens of online publications. It made it to film festivals all over the world, including the Oscar-qualifying Encounters Film Festival, and won the ‘Producer’s Choice’ award at the Earl’s Court Film Festival.
Alongside all this, Yolanda continued practising yoga and meditation. In 2011 she qualified as a yoga teacher, and began teaching. Her experiences with yoga, meditation and breathwork became the substance for her first health and wellness book, ‘The Breathing Revolution’. Here, she looked at the connection between breathing, the nervous system and mental health.
This was her most personal work to date, as she shared openly about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Since then she has become a mental health advocate, giving talks about mental health and the benefits of breathing techniques both at online and in-person events. She is particularly interested in breaking stigmas around mental health conditions and has written about this in publications like Elephant Journal.
Yolanda is currently co-writing a TV series with actor Shaun Amos, which she will also direct. She’s directing a new documentary called ‘First, Do No Pharm’, an exposé on the pharmaceutical industry. She’s also writing a new book: a novel about generational trauma.