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Healthy filmmaking

Workshop allows soldiers to tell stories

A group of soldiers listen as Jeannette Sears, I WAS THERE film workshop director, explains how a storyboard helps in the producing of a film. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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What's your all-time favorite film?

The answers varied widely as I sat and listened to 17 soldiers respond.

Everyone in room C-203 in the Stone Education Center agreed that they liked a particular film because it told a story that meant something to them.

Storytelling is an ancient art, and films are just one modern way of telling a story. Stories mean something, and that something can be positive.

Welcome to an I WAS THERE film workshop.

"What about our stories?" asked Sgt. Juan Rodriguez last Monday morning.

The multiply deployed soldier, now serving in the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, continued by saying, "It's hard to talk about some of this."

Others nodded their heads in agreement.

Rodriguez had come across the reason why he and the other soldiers were in attendance: They were going to have the opportunity to create a short film unique to themselves that would be, perhaps, therapeutic. Those in attendance for the workshop represented a variety of military occupational specialties, and many had been deployed.

Ben Patton, the grandson of Gen. George Patton and son of Maj. Gen. George Patton, founded the I WAS THERE film workshops. He began conducting the workshops in 2011 at Fort Carson, Colorado.

"Filmmaking is a process that has certain therapeutic benefits," Patton wrote in a press release. "It's a wonderful way to break down barriers, and at the same time, you're actually creating a piece of narrative that may allow you to communicate something you haven't before."

For the second time in as many years, the opportunity for soldiers to create these therapeutic films presented itself to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord community.

During the weeklong experience, the soldiers were introduced to some of the technical and creative components of filmmaking.

"But the point," said Jeanette Sears, the workshop director, "is for everyone to listen, collaborate and then empower."

Sgt. Jeremiah Berry and Staff Sgt. Duron Ellis, I Corps, were focused on listening and collaborating as they worked to draw stick figures to describe the word "pride."

"This is interesting," said Ellis.  "It is a challenge to tell a good story.  But it's worth it."

At another table, soldiers huddled around Sears, who provided direction about how stick figures are used on a storyboard.

Filmmakers and instructors Aileen Sheedy and Jason Deparrie-Turner liked the energy they felt from the soldiers.

"The thing that strikes me about this group is they are great listeners and talkers; I think getting their thoughts down to produce a film will be tremendous."

For four days, participants worked with experienced volunteer filmmakers from around the country to script, shoot and edit a short film.

"Storytelling is an ancient tradition," pointed out Dr. Josh Cohen, a workshop observer.

A clinical psychologist and published author on the salutary effects of filmmaking on mental health, Cohen emphasized the therapeutic benefits of storytelling.

"The telling of a story in the digital age has more capacity to actualize your imaginative potential," he said, "and that is a good thing."

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