Veterans and instructors at an I WAS THERE Film Workshop held at North Shore Community College in Danvers, Massachusetts. Benjamin Patton, last row, far right.

Never in the decade since I have begun writing about the psychology found in cinema and media works have I offered my personal opinion regarding a film’s quality or the level of enjoyment yielded from viewing. Being reserved and withholding of my personal opinion are natural skills that have developed over many years of clinical training. And yet, once invited to a film screening by my academic advisee to learn regarding the work he contributed upon connected with the Patton Veterans Project, Inc., it was hard not to share my personal experience at the event and with others thereafter. I found myself moved by Patton Veterans Project Inc.’s mission, work and partnership offered to military veterans.

According to the Patton Veterans Project, Inc.’s literature, they are dedicated to their mission “to help veterans coping with post traumatic stress reduce social isolation and strengthen family, community, and professional bonds”. The way in which this mission is accomplished is “through filmmaking workshops enabling participants to collaborate with peers to process their service experiences”. These “I WAS THERE” workshops include instructors to assist the veteran to create a short film from beginning until completion in either a week or weekend sixteen-hour collaboration. At the conclusion, veterans screen their films informally and within the following month, a screening event is held “local to the venue where the workshop took place, where the veterans can formally present their films to friends, family and invited guests” Benjamin Patton, Founder and Executive Director of Patton Veteran Project, Inc. shared. He continued, “this allows them (the veterans) several weeks to get comfortable with their film following the workshop, and watch and share it with others”. Patton Veterans Project, Inc. further highlights that screening events serve to “validate veterans’ experiences, advance community dialogue, and educate the public about the mental health challenges facing veterans and military families”. 

And what does these films do exactly? One act Patton Veterans Project, Inc. provides veterans is an opportunity to reflect on difficult emotions that are many times withheld from others to see; even withheld from the veteran. When these feelings are suppressed, the same intense feelings can likely hinder healing. Developing a cinematic concept where the script, plot and performances are the veteran’s creation provides an artistic platform to support these emotions. This process invites a veteran to no longer rely upon suppressing their challenging feelings, rather welcomes the use of sophisticated thought processes to transform the emotions into “a creative, healthful, socially acceptable or beneficial resolution” (McWilliams, 2011, p.147) through the safety of collaboration and art. Ultimately, these shorts become a resource to work through feelings generated by experiences of deployments, hostility, pain, grief, emotional injuries and loss.

Patton Veterans Project, Inc.’s use of film has presented over 1,000 veterans with “a contained experience with a known beginning, middle, and ending” (Marshall Woods, 2018, p. 16) to visually articulate both their military experience and feelings through cinema. Benjamin Patton concluded, “We like to think of ourselves as the ‘bank of their creative river’, never telling the participating veterans whatto do, but rather advising on how to accomplish their films” allowing the veteran to direct what they would like to share, work through and potentially heal from by their expression. Can we create restorative moments through the use of cinema? Art can be a healing modality used to create a narrative, and at times, a silent account to gain a greater understanding of the events that have occurred in the past. Patton Veterans Project Inc. embraces discovering the impact creating films has on their participants and actively engages in research to reveal outcomes from this innovative venture. What has been found qualitatively amongst their participants has been an increase of “regaining a sense of agency, regaining a sense of belonging, and processing the trauma” (Tuval-Mashiach, Patton & Drebing, 2018, p. 9). What can be felt when attending a screening is an overwhelming feeling that wells within of hope that there are new known ways to help our veterans mend.

If you would like to see films by the Patton Veterans Project, Inc., find I Was There (2018) below:

To learn more regarding Patton Veterans Project, Inc. visit their website at:


Marshall Woods, K (2018). Best Psychology in Film.Upper Marlboro, MD: Author.

McWilliams, N. (2011). Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, Second Edition. New York, NY. Guilford Press.

Tuval-Mashiach, R., Patton, B.W. & Drebing, C. (2018). “When you make a movie, and you see your story there, you can hold it”: Qualitative exploration of collaborative filmmaking as a therapeutic tool for veterans. Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 9, 1-11.