Therapy through filmmaking

Jason Deparrie-Turner (left), an instructor for the I Was There film workshop, and Spc. Mark Biangardi (right), a dental assistant, 673rd Dental Company Area Support, listen to the audio of a video created during the I Was There film workshop at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., May 7, 2015. The I Was There film workshop is a four-day program designed to provide therapy through filmmaking to service members with post-traumatic stress disorder. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Service members are using filmmaking to bring to life their internal turmoils and struggles they face as part of the challenges that come with military life.

Through a four-day class, known as the I Was There film workshop, service members had the opportunity to learn to express themselves by creating a video using their personal experiences.

Some of the experiences may include the normal everyday stresses of work or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a deployment. At times the service members have difficulty coping with, communicating, and expressing themselves to their families and friends. The workshop provides for them a way to communicate and at the same time work through their problems.

“There are scientific studies saying that filmmaking can be therapeutic,” said Christen I. Kimbell, an instructor for the I Was There film workshop.

“It can take very traumatic things or frustrating things and through reliving them in a film you can actually find a good, safe way of dealing with them.”

This program also gives the service members the opportunity to learn the art of storytelling.

“I think as human beings we’re wired to tell stories, to put our experiences in the form of stories so that other people can understand them,” said Benjamin Patton, founder of the I Was There film workshop. “Veterans come to our workshop and they have something they want to say and they have somebody they want to say it to.”

Patton continued saying that maybe it’s the 5year-old daughter of a service member that didn’t understand what their mom or dad experienced during their deployment to Fallujah or a spouse who is having difficulty relating to the service members’ deployment experience. These are just some of the types of experiences service members have difficulty explaining to their loved ones.

Not being able to express their feelings to their families may add on more stress to what they already face.

Through this workshop, students learn basic film skill sets and create a short film to show their families, friends or battle buddies what they are dealing with through a creative video rather than explain it with words that their families may not understand.

“We teach Soldiers how to tell their stories in a collaborative fashion,” said Patrick S. Downey, lead instructor for the I Was There film workshop. “We (students and instructors) brainstorm the ideas in the stories they have and then we shoot them, edit them and at the very end we screen them for friends and families.”

During the class service members worked as a team combining their ideas and sharing experiences that have emotionally impacted them in one way or another. By doing so, the service members not only help heal themselves but also help their comrades in the class who may be going through similar challenges.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Theresa M. Denofre, an air battle manager, 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron and Pfc. Dillon LeMaster, a military police Soldier, 66th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, teamed up together to make a short film.

“I’m dealing with the loss of my marriage and my partner Dillon is dealing with not being able to be in his son’s life,” said Denofre. “In the story that we have chosen as part of our training, we talk about our struggles with balancing the military life as well as our personal lives.”

Although Denofre and LeMaster are in different rank structures and from different military branches they were able to support each other as they faced their emotional problems while they filmed their story.

She continued saying that they may feel like they are the only ones going through these issues and at times they don’t want to share their problems with anybody because of the differences in rank, military branches or gender.

“In the end it’s a nice reminder to realize that there’s a deeper understanding of that brotherhood, your camaraderie,” Denofre added.

Some of the service members participating in the class spoke of how they felt a weight was lifted off their shoulders and pain seemed to wash away.

“For me it’s definitely seeing my problems be put into an actual visual depiction of where I can look at and be like wow,” said LeMaster. “I could feel a lot of my pain watching this video and then almost by watching it, it was like I was getting rid of it.”

According to Patton, who is also a filmmaker with a psychology background, he said since the workshop was founded there has been a 20 percent drop in post-traumatic stress symptoms for service members from pre to post deployment.

“This program really works and I really believe in it,” Downey said. “It’s so empowering to see the Soldiers embrace the tools that they’ve been given to show people what they’ve gone through and how they had learned from it and how they’ve grown as people, as Soldiers.”