When Israeli artist and TED Fellow, Raffael Lomas turned 50, he knew he wanted his new work to have meaning. So when he learned about a group of South Sudanese children who had been raised in Israel and were then deported to South Sudan, he jumped at the chance to go make art with them and “see what would happen.”
What happened was that over the course of several days during the summer vacation of 2014, Raffael and the students built a house made out of 8000 paper clips – 8000 points of connection - symbolizing the meaning of home. But he also learned the children’s complex stories and heard tales of their arduous journeys – escaping the horrors of war, fleeing militias, crossing borders under fire. The connections he forged with them would mark the beginning of a longer quest to make the “project count.”
Feeling that the children’s deportation was still an open wound, Raffael brought the house sculpture back to Israel to afford the children a way to look back and connect to those they had left behind. With an exhibition of the sculpture in Tel Aviv and a skype call, the children are able to traverse space and time and connect to the people who had once been part of their home.
That event led to more connections – and Raffael begins to think about how to forge a connection between the Abayudaya, the Jewish community of Uganda, and the South Sudanese refugees who are Christians but once lived in Israel and speak Hebrew. If the refugee students can teach the Jewish children Hebrew, then perhaps they can earn a living? And what else can an art object do for the children? Raffael travels back to Kampala to take the South Sudanese students to meet the Abayudaya and sends the house off on a journey to meet the art world. As the sculpture travels, maybe it can accrue more meaning , create awareness about the plight of refugees, and make their humanity tangible. Maybe it will even sell and imagine what that money could do for the kids!
In a complex and layered story, 8000 Paper Clips explores the value of art, Raffael’s own history with depression and struggle, and what humans need – no matter their national status. It follows a group of extraordinary young people as they overcome adversity and build hope for their future – with the support of a team of people whose hearts they have touched.
When resources are limited and the need is great – what is the real value of art? No matter how much Raffael tortures himself with that question, ultimately it is the children who are best able to answer it.
Nitsan TalDirectorWriters Matter, It Takes Balls
Liki TapuachEditorWriters Matter
Question Everything ProductionsProducerIt Takes Balls, Writers Matter
Runtime:1 hour 36 seconds
Completion Date:February 1, 2020
Production Budget:100,000 USD
Country of Origin:United States
Country of Filming:Israel, Uganda, United States
Epos International Art Film FestivalTel Aviv
March 11, 2020
First place winner in competition
April 21, 2020
Oneota Film FestivalDecora, Iowa
February 15, 2020
Fine Art Film FestivalVenice CA
NHdocsNew Haven, CT
August 20, 2020
Vienna Independent Film FestivalVienna
October 5, 2020
The Fine Arts Film FestivalVenice, CA
July 8, 2020
Nitsan Tal was born and raised in Israel, in a Kibbutz.
Her grandfather, an avid amateur photographer, gave her her first SLR camera together with Dark room equipment, and sparked her first interest in photography.
Nitsan studied veterinary medicine in Israel and moved to the U.S. in 1998. The proximity to New York City allowed her to take classes in photography while practicing as a veterinarian. She studied at the New York Institute of Photography and the International Center of Photography.
In 2008 Nitsan established her photography studio in Closter, New Jersey.
Nitsan’s personal work is documentary in style with emphasis on the human condition. She has special interest in the work of nonprofit aid organizations and donates her time and services to NGO’s around the world.
In 2013 Nitsan filmed her first documentary film “It Takes Balls”, the story of an actor who likes to portray women. The film was shown in several festivals in the U.S.
She since completed two more documentary films: “Writers Matter”, about a non profit organization working with inner city school children in Philadelphia, and “8000 Paperclips” about an artist working with refugee children in Uganda.
Nitsan’s work has been shown in the following venues:
The Center for Cuban Arts NYC
Umbrella Arts NYC
25 CPW Gallery NYC
Scott Hill Gallery Closter New Jersey
Next Gallery NYC
World Affairs Council Global Visions exhibition
Cinemadiverse - Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Big Apple Film Festival
The Three Minutes Theatre, Manchester, UK
New Hope Film Festival
The New Americans Museum -San Diego
Firstglance Film Festival - Philadelphia
Chicago International Social Change Film Festival
In November of 2015, I got a text from a friend. Someone is looking for a camera person to document a project in Uganda. Would I be interested?
Two days later I spoke to Raffael, an Israeli artist, on the phone. He told me about his project with a group of deported South Sudanese refugees and sent me a link to a TV program about them. Five minutes into watching the program, I got up to look for a box of tissues.
By the time I learned that there was very little budget for the project and that I wouldn’t be paid, I was already hooked on the story and set on going.
Not to say that I didn’t have doubts.
Raffael, on the phone, seemed a fascinating person but also a bit crazy. In a way, he reminded me of my bipolar father when he was starting to “go up,” as we called it. He had so many grand plans for that week, and so many unknowns regarding practical details such as transportation and accommodations. Would I be traveling all the way to Africa on my own, for a half-baked project that was destined to fail? I did my best to confirm the validity of the trip and at the same time, made sure I could change my flight and leave early if things fell apart.
It was a tough week - between the long work hours in the intense heat and humidity, unreliable electricity (I would wake up in the morning and realize the camera batteries hadn’t charged overnight), and Raffael’s personality (we got into a shouting match on the second day over the safety of riding bikes in a torrential rain) - but I fell in love with the refugee children. Their strength, their generosity and their honesty.
To my embarrassment, at the end of one of the interviews, I burst out crying and found myself being comforted by a 16 years old girl. I tried to act professional, but as a mother, listening to her story and trying to imagine my own children going through anything remotely similar was just too much.
And my relationship to Raffael and his unusual ideas, changed. Through long conversations, I discovered a fascinating artist with a remarkable personal history and profound thought process.
I returned home and kept in touch with Raffael. He updated me on his efforts to bring the work to the art world, while sharing his struggles and doubts about the whole program. As an artist myself, the question of allocating resources to creative projects when there is need for food and medicine, resonated strongly.
I also kept in touch with the refugee children and the directors of the Come True organization and learned about their daily struggles and impossible dilemmas, helping a select few in a community with so much need.
When the sculpture was selected to be shown at the New Americans Museum in San Diego, I edited a short film to accompany it. That was also when I realized that this story deserved a much deeper probing and set out to work on “8000 Paperclips.”
I sought to address a number of questions in the film:
What is the role of art in healing from trauma?
Is it justified to spend money on enrichment projects when resources are limited?
What are the best ways to empower refugees, to help them regain self-confidence and respect?
What is there in the human connection that is so elusive and yet extremely powerful?
I do not claim to know the answers to these questions, but I’d like the viewers to explore them with me, and to connect.
We are all fragile paperclips, each in his own little pile. But if we could all connect, across borders and other manmade divides, with other human beings, how much stronger could we all become?