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Cinema Therapy and The MovieMaking Process
Do movies make a difference in our lives? Of course they do. As human beings, we learn from what we see, hear, and feel. The movie offers it all.
The experience becomes implicit, and even as we imagine ourselves playing the characters, the film affects music, dialogue, lighting, camera angles, and sound effects that bypass our normal protective censorship.
We can be emotionally receptive to encouraging messages and become energized or desensitized to violence. But an unprecedentedly popular film shows the new power of therapeutic success. It is up to us to see that opportunity and use it creatively and productively.
Film therapy is an assessment tool. Many adults benefit from talking about problems, thoughts, dreams, and emotions in psychotherapy, but most children and teenagers have a harder time expressing these feelings. Young children’s reactions to movies can help clinicians understand a child’s personality, concerns, interests, and current problems. By choosing children’s films, we can find the role models they work with… their ideal self-image, inner resources, potential goals, perceived obstacles, level of imagination, creativity, and general philosophy of life. Film therapy allows children to directly express feelings that are too threatening.
Film can also be used to get to the bottom of difficult issues. Movies provide a common ground for discussion about issues related to family, friendships, school, anxiety, self-esteem or love. Problems can be attributed to external factors, and seeing how the person in the movie handles the situation can give children ideas about how to deal with problems in their own lives. Key scenes seen over and over again can become the basis for learning new skills. Many movies allow children and teenagers to imagine how they can solve their own problems when the characters change their behavior.
Many films, like dreams, are filled with metaphors and symbols that affect us deeply. Carl Jung believed that as the mind explores the symbolic, the mind leads to ideas that transcend the mind. Metaphors and symbols stimulate two-way thinking and creativity; creating a bridge to the subconscious and bypassing the normal ego defenses often found in traditional therapies.
Myths and stories help people put their personal stories and the stories of others into context. All myths and stories have a villain and tell fantastic tales of the journey the hero must go on. In the same way, young people are on a journey of the heart and soul.
Filmmaking can be seen as a modern form of mythmaking that reflects our response to ourselves and the mysteries and wonders of our existence. Movies have a powerful effect on children and teenagers because they speak directly to their hearts and minds, bypassing the objections of the conscious mind.
Cinema therapy offers insights, role models, and options for more positive behaviors, but its limits are implicit. We’re looking at it, maybe doing it internally, but not necessarily. Cinema Therapy lacks the experiential element unless the child actively and consciously changes the behavior.
While film therapy is an assessment tool, the Filmmaking Process is a specific tool for behavior change. It is experiential learning at its best because it is creative and requires the child and adolescent to actively participate in its creation through self-awareness. The child becomes the hero of his own movie and actively participates in the journey of healthy behavior and adulthood. In a sense, the child is now his own teacher, learning from him as he watches the film over and over again. She is solving her problems by becoming the character she admires while acting as her image and role model. The MovieMaking Process was nominated for SAMHSA’s 2008 Service to the Academy of Science Award and is one of the Midwest’s most promising prevention programs, combining creativity, technology and human development.
The MovieMaking process begins with a problem to be solved and then focuses on the desired outcome. The film will be a journey for the hero to solve his problems and show a more positive attitude. If the point of the movie is bullying kindness, the hero learns through the experience of the movie what it feels like, looks like, and affects others. Films are often based on ancient myths and stories, but our hero is a child.
The MovieMaking Process uses gorilla shooting techniques, which is basically a mastery of what we have at any given moment in time. It can be in a child’s home, backyard, neighborhood, park, or school playground. It is the creative process of choosing a theme and gathering or creating props to make a movie into a movie. Children and teenagers love to create their own costumes and their costumes represent the hero they want to be.
The film was made as a silent film, using gestures and expressions. This is an important part of a child’s development, learning and recognizing the subtleties of human emotions, facial expressions, and body posture, and acting non-verbally. This way every child can participate. No need to learn or memorize lines, just act out the part and express the emotion through physical expression.
Films are often shot reflectively. The child is looking back at past events that caused him or others emotional pain. The film is a journey through heartbreak and a happy ending. Movies always end with determination and hope. The journey is over, the hero is more aware, more skilled, and can now see what happened from a new perspective.
After the film is edited, narration is added. The narrative tells the story of the hero looking at his past, overcoming obstacles, learning new behaviors, seeing new perspectives, and becoming better than before. Instead of trying to make a sound film, voiceovers save time and money by focusing on facial expressions, body language, and actions.
Added music to the finished film. For children or teenagers, meaningful music is the best way to create emotional experiences that are important for behavior change. We need to feel inspired and hopeful to change behavior. Music can take us to that height. The use of copyrighted music is a serious problem these days, but there are musicians in every community who want to hear and use their music. There is also a lot of royalty free music on the web.
It is important to present the children’s finished film with as much fanfare as possible. Inviting family and friends to watch a finished movie is an important element in creating a new ritual. Most children and teenagers enjoy watching movies over and over again. It reinforces new learning and each viewing reinforces this learning. Now the child is learning from the movie he made. She is learning that she can become her own hero and overcome life’s challenges with awareness, skill, and hope. He no longer just watches, he actively participates, and that is the great power of experience.
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