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My Missing Screw

In 1996, Raffael, a divorced young father, developed severe depression and attempted suicide. Following an extended stay in a mental institute, and a chance encounter with a pile of discarded screws in the hospital’s yard, he decides to construct his symbolic “missing screw.” He enlists the help of a sculptor friend and, over the next six months, labors in the friend’s studio, meticulously crafting a 10-foot screw, all the while documenting the process with a found video camera.

While working on his sculpture, he begins to regain some vitality and vows that if he ever completes the screw, he will travel with it to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where his grandfather was murdered, and his father was held during the Holocaust, as a symbolic gesture recognizing their suffering.

When he is finally discharged from the hospital, he decides to try to live as an artist. He figures that since an artistic project helped him get over his depression once, art may be a way of life that would prevent him from relapsing.
With no money and only a theoretical plan, he leaves his son behind and embarks on an ambitious journey around the world, resolving to finance the trip with artwork he will create along the way. Together with the screw, he is planning to first visit the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and from there to continue to Van-Gogh’s grave in Paris, create a confrontation at the Guggenheim Museum in NY, and then let go of the screw into the waters of the Ganges in India.

But things get complicated when his son, who feels abandoned, refuses to get out of bed. Should Raffael relinquish his vow to stay with his son? How would such a decision affect his mental health?

  • Nitsan Bar Tal
    Director
    8000 Paperclips
  • Liki Tapuach
    Writer
    8000 Paperclips, Writers Matter
  • Halil Efrat
    Writer
    Tantura, Aida's Secrets
  • Nitsan Bar Tal
    Producer
    8000 Paperclips
  • Raffael Lomas
    Key Cast
    "As self"
    8000 Paperclips
  • Joel Kipnis
    Music
  • Zed Kelley
    Music
    Warrior, Playing for Keeps
  • Tenzin Yougyal
    Animation
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Documentary
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 33 minutes 40 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 19, 2024
  • Production Budget:
    250,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    India, Israel, Italy, Spain, United States
  • Language:
    English, Hebrew
  • Shooting Format:
    Mixed
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Director Biography - Nitsan Bar Tal

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 photography at the New York Institute of Photography and the International Center of Photography and later filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts and New York University.
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 directed her first short documentary “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.

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Director Statement

In November 2015, a friend introduced me to Raffael, an artist looking for someone to document an art project with refugee children in Uganda. At the end of our first phone conversation, I was curious and enthusiastic about the project, but I also felt uncomfortable. In his excitement, Raffael reminded me of my father when he was going into a manic episode.
I called the friend who introduced us and voiced my concern. He replied that Raffael indeed has a history of mood disorder, but I shouldn’t worry about it; he always completes his grandiose ideas.
The project in Uganda turned into my first feature doc, 8000 Paperclips. While working on it, I learned of Raffael’s journey with the giant screw. I was captivated, and sorry I wasn’t there to film it. One day, after Raffael and I developed more trust, he asked if I would like to make a film about his “screw journey.” I replied that it sounded like a great story, but making a film about events from 20 years ago required recreations, and… Raffael interrupted me. It turned out he had filmed throughout the journey and had dozens of hours on VHS cassettes.
At first, I was drawn to the story simply because it’s so unique. Raffael, carrying the screw sculpture on his shoulders in Dachau, reminded me of Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a small man crushed by the burden of life. His nonsensical interactions with Lance in the studio evoked images of Roberto Bennini in Down by Law.
Then, gradually, the themes shifted. Talking to Raffael, his family, and friends, I discovered another story: the tale of a child and his parents dealing with a heart-rending situation. For me, this cut close to the bone.
My father struggled with Bipolar Disorder. Although they were no longer together, my mom made every effort to keep me in touch with him and allow him to be a father. Only as an adult did I realize how unusual it was. Often, parents who live with mental illness are pushed out of their families and away from their children, leaving both child and parent bereft.
From a story about a mad art project that helped a depressed person deal with his illness, the film shifted and made room for a story about fatherhood, family and community. Then it widened yet again to show how trauma descends through the generations, and how central family and friends are to healing and support.
Through working on the film, I came to understand much more about what my own father went through. My dad never talked in detail about what his mental illness felt like. But in our conversations, Raffael helped me imagine what my father experienced and what might have been possible for him. Sadly, my dad never found a way to live well with his mood disorder, like Raffael.
Ultimately, what impressed me most about Raffael’s journey was how he dealt with his mood disorder. Instead of fighting it, he used it as a source of creativity. With this film, I would like to plead with families and society as a whole: Don’t be afraid of people living with mental illness; don’t force them into molds they don’t fit, and don’t lock them away or over-medicate them unless it’s for their own well-being. Let them express themselves, love them as they are, and we will all benefit.