Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Behind the Screen: The Camouflage Closet.

Producer Heliana Ramirez
Director Michael Nedelman
Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2014 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Contact us to learn how you can see the films and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience.

In this month celebrating LGBT pride, producer Heliana Ramirez describes below the making of The Camouflage Closet, the film directed by Michael Nedelman that focuses on the resilience of LGBT veterans who have experienced discrimination, PTSD, and trauma. 

The Camouflage Closet is a documentary about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) veterans with PTSD, trauma, and recovery. Directed by Stanford medical student Michael Nedelman and produced by Heliana Ramirez, LISW (a social welfare PhD student at UC Berkeley), this film incorporates the firsthand perspectives of LGBT veterans, who were provided with cameras, tools, and training to create video narratives. It also features an original score by composer and UC Berkeley PhD student Andrew V. Ly.

The production team decided to adapt the Videovoice method to create The Camouflage Closet (Wang and Burris, 1997; Wang & Pies, 2008; Catalani et. al., 2012). By providing participants with necessary equipment and instructive videomaking sessions, this production template is meant to accomplish the goals of (1) encouraging positive social change, especially for marginalized communities; (2) understanding the needs and strengths of these communities; and (3) empowering these communities through art. Videovoice has been used widely for its potential to enable participants to describe their own lived experiences, resulting in uniquely poignant and detailed information—as opposed to being defined by outside parties. This is particularly meaningful for a population rendered virtually invisible by “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) and other military policies that are anti-LGBT.

The Film Process
The production process consisted of three concurrent phases. In phase I (individual filming phase), participants learned the basics of how to use the camera and what it meant to film responsibly—from obtaining signed releases, to being aware of their own personal triggers and limits in discussing PTSD and potentially traumatic experiences. During 1-week camera loans, participants chose the content they wanted to film and which clips they wanted to share with the group.

During phase II (group discussion phase), participants met at VA Palo Alto to discuss their colleagues’ clips, offer positive feedback, and engage in creative exercises. These exercises ranged from “Incorporating Archival Material” to “Using Music to Tell a Story,” which allowed the participants time to brainstorm, learn storytelling skills, build confidence, and process emotional responses to filmed content. This enabled the project leaders, Ramirez and Nedelman, to come to understand each participant’s unique voice and vision for his or her contribution to the final product.

In phase III (collaborative phase), each participant had the opportunity to meet with the director and producer for individual filming sessions, meant to expound upon the topics they had previously identified and to tie together the loose ends of the narrative. New edits of the video, as well as Ly’s original musical compositions, were brought back to the group’s weekly meetings, allowing the team to evaluate the look, feel, and overall message of the film in keeping with the veterans’ vision. So that a range of stories and styles of storytelling could be included, the film was edited as a series of vignettes addressing topics such as military sexual trauma (MST), lives before the military, and individual recovery narratives.

Approaches to Dealing With Trauma
The challenge of creating a film that directly addresses PTSD and trauma is that film participants often were accessing traumatic memories they had not dealt with directly for several years. Additionally, many of the veterans had not shared their traumas with anyone else and were at risk of being triggered by their peers’ stories of trauma.