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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Ben Patton on interviewing military veterans

Documentary filmmaker Ben Patton talks with R.J. McHatton about the process of making short films about veterans. You can listen to this 21-minute audio-only interview:

Ben Patton interview from RJ McHatton on Vimeo.

The son and grandson of prominent military figures (including one particularly famous general), Ben Patton is now working on a special project to interview military personnel suffering from PTSD.

"For me the process of making the film is interesting, but in a certain sense what I am doing with the veterans is really somewhat being the banks of the river that nudges them into their own creative process, so I feel like it is more about empowerment than it is about production per se," says Patton. "It’s empowering them to tell their own story. I love that. I love it when I can say just the right things or ask the questions in a particular way, then shut up and listen and see how they respond. And it’s amazing sometimes what you hear when you give them a chance to speak."

Sometimes the sons and daughters who tend to commission these personal biographies decide not to go ahead with a project because they think their parent doesn't want to talk about their experiences in the military. "That’s a basic misunderstanding on their part," says Patton. "I think deep down human beings are about story; narrative is at the core of what it is to be human—to remember where we’ve been and what we’ve done." Often those parents just need to be nudged, either by their families or by a personal historian. "In many cases there is a stigma associated with certain wars and there’s a reluctance" to talk about them. Unfortunately, "if your own family isn’t willing to nudge you then it gets locked away for a long period of time, maybe never to be revealed. But future generations can only learn from these things, so I think it’s important to give them a nudge or to have their families give them a nudge."

Advice for others who want to capture interviews for personal histories (Patton teaches workshops on the process): "[I] think people tend to ... undervalue personal biography. They tend to want quick answers and they see people succeeding at a very early age [which is] quite the exception. And they think they can just skip steps but I think you really can’t. You have to take the time to master whatever it is you are doing and also just to be a very good listener."

Good work, Ben and R.J.!
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