Introducing Eran Preis.
According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately one in five Americans suffered from any form of mental illness in 2010 – a figure totaling approximately 11.4 million. Such illnesses and disorders range in severity and type, and include conditions such as depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Film and media arts professor Eran Preis, who has been teaching on Main Campus since 1993, recently released a film detailing his son’s struggle with schizophrenia after going AWOL in the Israeli Defense Force, how their family coped and, on a larger scale, the correlation between mental illnesses and drug and alcohol abuse.
In the wake of the impending release of his newest film, professor Preis sat down with The Temple News to discuss “Jonathan’s Return,” his other cinematographic venture and his son’s road to recovery.
The Temple News: What inspired you to start making films of this nature?
Eran Preis: [“Jonathan’s Return”] actually is the second of a trilogy of documentary films that will focus on what happens when they close state mental institutions. Most of the people went to the streets, some were left to family, and for some, there were small communities built. So I did one [film] on the street called “Patricia Baltimore,” about four years ago. [Patricia] was a homeless woman trying to help other people on the street, though she was suffering from mental illness.
And “Jonathan’s Return” is about our son and how he and the family are coping with the mental illness.
TTN: Can you tell us about Jonathan’s struggle throughout the film?
EP: The film is following Jonathan’s story in Israel when he got sick in the army in 2001. Basically, six years later we visit these places and tell the story, in like a retelling. So we follow in detail the first two years [after returning to the U.S.], one hospital to the next, seven hospitals total with constantly changing diagnoses. Then he got a little better, he went to a program in Baltimore and now he’s back.
When the film was finished, he was not doing that well. He basically stopped medication and started using [drugs.] Which is also very typical, [using] drugs and alcohol because it’s kind of like a self-medication. So then he went to a rehab and now he lives in a halfway house with people who are also in a rehab situation, and now he’s doing really well.
TTN: How would you say making this film affected your family?
EP: One [of Jonathan’s] sibling[s] took a year-and-a-half of not talking to us, really feeling betrayed, et cetera. The second son, who is an artist, really took responsibility and stayed with Jonathan. Me and my wife talk about how it strengthened our relationship, but also how each one of us copes. I talk a lot about coping by making the film. So I cope through making a film about it, and with Jonathan participating, it’s brought us closer.
And you’ll see scenes in the film how the family’s against it, and I’m criticized for exploitation and stuff like that. But I honestly just say that this is my way to cope, to have other people know about it and understand and then we take it out of the closet.
TTN: What do you hope to achieve with this trilogy?
EP: I think the first thing is to bring it to the foreground, to have people talk about it. Then there’s the issue of the stereotype. I want people, who, when they see homeless on the street, they’ll see faces. They need to understand that for homeless people, every little hill is a mountain, and the same thing for mental illness. Just knowing my son isn’t portrayed in a film just as ‘schizophrenic Jonathan,’ but Jonathan who also is a musician, a son and a soldier. So stereotypes are broken when you start seeing three dimensions.
I also want to help families to look what we’re going through and find a way to identify with that. To understand that they’re not alone and to be able to talk about it.
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at email@example.com.