Using film school as therapy
From Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and Art, standing, from left to right, are Asher Lemann, David Cohen, Chanan Ariel, Ofir Shaer, Yosef Baruch Kalangel and Nachum Lemkus. Sitting, from the left, are Keren Hakak, Menachem Assaraf and Shalom Sarel. (photo from Ma’aleh)
When a major donor came to Neta Ariel, director of Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and Art, with an offer to provide scholarships as long as the students give back to the community, Ariel accepted the challenge.
“Ma’aleh is located in the centre of Jerusalem and, unfortunately, there are a lot of social issues,” Ariel told the Jewish Independent. “For example, lots of high school-age teens walk the streets or, during the night, use drugs and live on the streets. So, my students tried to help them – we knew a few of them, and we invited them to come to the school once a week for two hours in the afternoon to learn about film.”
The students at Ma’aleh became mentors, encouraging the teens to bring their own stories to life through the materials. Another group – comprised of immigrants from Ethiopia – also works with the students.
“Tell your story,” said Ariel of the most important aspect of the program.
“At the end of the year,” she said, “when we screened the movie for the group, teacher, friends … it was an amazing thing. They [had] left high school, or the family didn’t want them; they felt like they’re losers and didn’t have self-confidence. When we had the screening and their family or friends came, they really appreciated them. And the film gave them hope. We thought, the making of the film was not only fun, it was a teaching tool to uplift them and our students.”
Through learning how to film, from making personal connections and from telling their stories – which often included trauma or conflict, from rape, violence and negative treatment to gender or sexual orientation issues – they began to heal.
For most participants, it was their first encounter with therapy.
“Most of the time, at the end of the day, after the project was done, they shared with us that this is the first time they’d dealt with this,” said Ariel. “This was their way to tell the society, family or friends that this is their story and what I suffer from.”
From these beginnings, the school developed a curriculum for the program and, with each passing year, it has grown. Now, the school offers two such programs, focusing on how to use film as therapy and how to work together.
“You have a group of social workers and filmmakers,” explained Ariel. “Every week, they meet and work on the exercises we give them, and they work together to find a balance. It works well, the partnership. It’s amazing how the psychologist becomes a filmmaker and the filmmaker comes to understand psychology.”
Months after Operation Protective Edge, the school decided to host a group of bereaved mothers from the conflict, to determine if there was a way they could help.
They found ways of incorporating filmmaking into the process of mourning. At each meeting, they studied and focused on one aspect of filmmaking – lighting, filming, music, and so on. Once taught, participants were given an exercise to practise the skill. Then, they were given a camera and asked to practise filming.
“They didn’t tell them to make a movie about something specific,” said Ariel. “They gave them a task about something emotional. Most chose an aspect connected to the son they lost a few months ago.
“Then, we teach them how to write the script, how to do voiceovers, how to incorporate music. Automatically, most would think about their son or themselves and their fears. So, part of the meeting was talking about what we go through, and a lot of it was about creating things.
“At the end of the year, everyone together made a film called Saba. The main character in the movie is the grandfather, as all of them had mentioned their grandfathers, from time to time.”
Last year, the school opened a bereaved fathers group and found that, while they seemed to barely communicate in the classroom, they collaborated well outside of class. They put together what Ariel described as an “amazing movie” about their surviving kids.
“This is something the fathers said – that the kids at home blamed the parents, saying that, at home, they give a lot of time, attention and energy to something dedicated to the dead son … and [are] not taking care of them,” said Ariel. “Regardless of the age of the kids, in every house, they found it was the same situation. And, it was just amazing.
“Now, we are trying to open a group for grandparents … but, most of them, they can’t come, too hard for them, very far. So, I hope that … we’ll open another group for bereaved mothers … those who couldn’t come last time.”
While the main objective of Ma’aleh stems from a Jewish perspective, Ariel travels the world to introduce filmmaking and therapy to schools.
“Most of our students come from a Jewish Orthodox background … not all, but a lot of them,” said Ariel. “And, a lot of the subjects we touch on are connected to Jewish identity and our roots.”
At the time of her interview with the Independent, Ariel had just returned from the United States, where one of her stops was at a Christian school, where she spoke about how to best relay religious differences through film.
Apart from teaching, Ariel uses these trips to fundraise for the school and to keep in touch with filmmakers, mostly in Los Angeles.
“When they come to Israel, they help us, come to give a workshop at our school,” said Ariel. “We do projects together. Most importantly, we’re sharing our graduate movies with the world. A lot of institutions in Israel and America use them as education tools, cultural tools, and even, from time to time, to promote Israel.
“My goal is that this tool will be used for all kinds of populations. Many different kinds of groups can take care of themselves using this process.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.