HAMILTON — Benjamin Patton decided not to follow in the military footsteps of his grandfather, the famous World War II Gen. George S. Patton, or his father, a decorated general of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
But the younger Patton, who spent part of his youth growing up on the family’s Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, is contributing to his family’s legacy of military service in his own way.
Patton, 52, became a producer and executive at PBS and started his own video production company. Five years ago, he began the Patton Veterans Project, a nonprofit organization that teaches combat veterans how to make films that express their experiences and help them return to a productive civilian life.
Patton is now looking for local veterans to participate in a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of his project. The veterans will take part in workshops over two weekends this month at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell to learn from Patton and other professional film instructors how to conceive, shoot and edit a short film.
Researchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration will keep in touch with the veterans to help determine whether the filmmaking project is achieving its goals of reducing post-traumatic and service-related stress, empowering them to seek treatment, and strengthening bonds with their family and community.
Patton said he is convinced that the film-making project is helping veterans, but a clinical study will hopefully confirm its effectiveness and lead to an expansion of the program.
“If you’ve experienced this, you know that it works,” he said. “But the VA and donors want to see that it’s moving the ball forward with veterans. They want to see that it’s not just a fun thing to do, but does it actually help them become more productive in who they are as husbands and fathers and employees?”
The workshops will take place on Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 27-29. All veterans living within commuting distance of UMass-Lowell who served in the military after Sept. 11, 2001, are encouraged to apply.
Patton, who also wrote a book about growing up in a famous family, said he got the idea for his veterans project in part based on his experience running summer camps for teenagers at Green Meadows Farm. (His mother, Joanne Patton, still lives on the farm.) As part of the camp, some of the teenagers made films about their adolescent identity. Years later, he began wondering if the same process of sorting through difficult experiences would benefit veterans returning home from war.
Patton began holding “I WAS THERE” film workshops for veterans who were undergoing mental health treatment. His organization has conducted 45 workshops around the country, as well as one in Israel.
The veterans are taught the basics of filmmaking, then work together to create short films that draw on their wartime experiences. Patton said the films are often wordless, but use metaphor and symbolism to express feelings the veterans otherwise might not talk about with a counselor.
“We’ve found that by bringing these veterans in a room together, crafting often-fictionalized stories that address things they’ve experienced and don’t want to talk about, that process seems to have a positive impact,” Patton said. “It opens them up to the idea that other people can understand what they’ve experienced on an emotional level.”
The research study based on this month’s workshops will be conducted in partnership with the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford. Dr. Charles Drebing, director of mental health services at the Bedford hospital and a principal investigator of the study, said the workshops have the potential to help veterans get care earlier than they would otherwise.
“We’ve seen that first step lead to other treatment, and that’s huge,” he said.
Any post-9/11 veteran who wishes to participate in an evaluation of the I WAS THERE Film Workshop program on Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 27-29 at UMass-Lowell can call the The Patton Veterans Project at 917-326-2872 or go to www.iwastherefilms.org.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.