‘Everything just began to click’: Finding a community in film, college and life

By Martha Bennett

Jacob Wishnek paused briefly in front of his computer to take a swig from his cappuccino. Readjusting his chair to get closer to the screen, he studied a scene from his latest short film, “College Kid,” in one of Swain Hall’s editing labs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“There!” he blurted out, pointing to the screen. “Do you see that? Oh man, I love that.”

In this scene, the main character, Alex, walks through a parking lot while he listens to “Birds Don’t Sing” by the hypnotic-pop band, TV Girl. Syncopated to each cut, the beat of the song dictates every edit, going from shots of Alex’s feet to close-ups of his face.

Snapping his fingers and bobbing his beanie-wearing head, Wishnek smiled.

“This might be one of the things I’m most excited about,” he said. “I just wanna be sure I can get it right.”

He knows, though, as much as his friends do, that he won’t feel like he got it right.

“He’s always on the move, on the go, pushing forward,” cinematographer and friend Michael Sparks said. “He discounts nearly everything he does, which means he doesn’t always take pride or gain confidence from his achievements.”

A dedicated planner and perfectionist, Wishnek’s work ethic has been shaped by crowded sets where he couldn’t hear himself speak, 48-hour deadlines that made him vomit from getting no sleep and pages of rough drafts that would never make it to a read through.

“Perfection is not possible,” actor and friend Calliope George said. “But it is exciting to work alongside someone who shoots for the moon.”

Wishnek’s had a lot of practice shooting for the moon.

At just 22, Wishnek has been involved in over 60 film projects. From sci-fi fantasies to comedies, he’s developed a desire for telling stories and finding different ways to tell them.

But his passion didn’t begin with a typical movie experience. He has Alex Kim, and what might be the worst song of all time, to thank.

The ‘film guy’

Wishnek was 13-years-old when he opened his front door in Charlotte, N.C. to see Kim, his neighbor, knocking.

“Hey, have you seen Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’?” Kim asked.

A high school student wanting some help, Kim proposed a parody project to Wishnek as an opportunity to get some laughs around school.

“We called it ‘Pi Day’ because March 14, or 3.14159 day,” Wishnek said. “And it kind of became viral.”

Using their parents’ camcorders, Wishnek helped Kim film an off-color music video that generated over 15,000 views on YouTube. The recognition was flattering, but Wishnek noticed something: The video sucked.

Wobbly frames, harsh lighting and odd angles all made Wishnek curious.

“That became my pastime,” he said. “Just researching how to make films. Whether that was with finding new equipment or just learning how to actually shoot things properly to up the production quality.”

There were other learning moments, too. A summer spent at the UNC School of the Arts gave him one of his most important ones.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” a 2012 film by Wes Anderson, was on a laundry list of movies to study for the summer. Known for his stylized form of filmmaking, “Moonrise” checks all the boxes for a typical Anderson film. A consistent color scheme, quirky humor and spanning landscapes paint a charming picture for anyone who sees it.

“I watched it and I was like, ‘Oh, film is art; that’s what this is,’” Wishnek said. “Everything just began to click.”

It wasn’t about cracking jokes — at least most of the time.

It was about finding beauty.

Whether visually on camera or emotionally through script, that’s what made a film engaging. That’s what made them worth making.

So Wishnek began to chase that beauty.

He became the “film guy” at school. Working from project to project, Wishnek always wanted to be busy, whether he was writing, directing or producing. Voted “Most Likely to Win an Oscar” his senior year and accepted into New York University’s prestigious dual business-film degree program, he felt he had paved a road to success.

But New York never happened. It could never happen.

With an annual tuition of over $75,000 and little financial aid, NYU was thrown out of the picture for the son of a network engineer and a business banker. He had to dream smaller, so he looked to the only in-state school he applied to.

“At first I was just trying to put this happy face on about UNC,” Wishnek said. “But deep down I just told myself I knew I would transfer.”

‘It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that’

Wishnek had found people with similar interests —even co-founded a student organization for filmmakers — but there was a disconnect. He lacked a community, and Ellie Teller was the person to see he needed one.

A year older and an acquaintance from high school, Teller found Wishnek in one of her classes her sophomore year. She saw a nice kid who always had a nervous smirk on his face, but he seemed lost. He reminded Teller of who she was a year ago.

“When I first came to UNC I had an older brother that was a senior, and spending time with him helped me engage with different communities at UNC,” Teller said. “I wanted to provide similar spaces for him to get out of his comfort zone and start enjoying UNC for all it had to offer.”

She took him to parties, introduced him to the media production major and even gave him his first beer. He may not have been in a big city, or enrolled in a flashy film school, but he began to realize he could belong somewhere. He could belong here.

“Our perceptions of college are that when you get there, everything will fall into place, but I don’t think that’s immediately true for many people,” Teller said. “It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that.”

This is what makes “College Kid” so personal for Wishnek to make — it’s about him.

A project four years in the making, the semi-autobiographical film traces Wishnek’s personal growth each year of college. Using musical and color motifs, the film mirrors what UNC-CH and filmmaking have taught him.

“In order to find happiness and fulfillment in your college experience, (in) life in general, you need to find and take part in your community,” Wishnek said.

“And that means putting in the work — doing something — to get there. The film industry is collaborative, not competitive. It’s the community of it all that makes a film thrive, and I think in life you have to find the same thing.”

As he scrolled through the last scene of “College Kid” on his screen, Wishnek spotted an error.

A scene between Alex and his friend Nathan, they’re sitting on a roof, looking at the night sky.

“See there?” Wishnek said, pointing to the screen. “You can see the boom pole’s shadow against the house.”

Embarrassed, he gritted his teeth as he watched the rest of the scene unfold.

“I just feel, in this moment, this sense of meaning,” Alex said to Nathan. “Nothing in particular. No one idea more significant than the other. Just…significance. And it’s a lot.”

Wishnek’s smile began to reappear.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley 

Yoga in the era of #MeToo

By Mary Glen Hatcher

First, she asks them to breathe.

“Gently, softly,” she repeats, like the rain that trickles against the second floor window of Duke University’s dance studio — today’s yoga sanctuary.

A few dozen mats lay scattered across the concrete floor. Perched on each are educators, yoga instructors, activists and community leaders from across North Carolina.

Eyes closed, they listen intently to the rain, the sound of their collective breath, and to the voice of the woman they’ve traveled hours to hear — Zabie Yamasaki.

“Hands come to heart center,” Yamasaki continues. “Focus on your intention for being here.”

For many, that was simple: They are survivors of sexual assault.

They have come to help themselves, and others, heal.

Healing from #MeToo

This marks the fifth annual Embodied Learning Summit, a community event sponsored by researchers from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill that aims to share the health benefits of yoga with the public.

Through interactive workshops and discussions, the summit tackles a different social issue each year and the ways in which yoga and mindfulness techniques can be used to address it.

This year’s theme: #MeToo.

After a conversation with a young sexual assault victim in 1997 left her speechless, activist Tarana Burke crafted a campaign around the simple, empathetic phrase, “me too,” to raise awareness for sexual and gender-based violence.

The message has since grown into a global movement as individuals share stories of abuse, solidarity and survival on social media using “#MeToo.” In 2017, the topic garnered more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions on Facebook in a single day.

Not only has #MeToo changed the conversation around sexual assault, it is also changing the way we think about the impact of sexual trauma on the body and the healing process.

“I think there’s really a hunger to have a space to talk about and to make some of these connections in the yoga community,” said Michele Berger, a women’s and gender studies professor at UNC-CH and lead organizer of the summit.

Every survivor experiences trauma and heals in different ways, Berger said, but yoga and mindfulness practices have the potential to be an effective form of therapy for survivors of sexual violence.

A 2017 report from Georgetown Law confirms this, citing that yoga practice in young girls who have experienced trauma can “restore neurological pathways in a region of the brain that processes emotion awareness,” leading to greater levels of self-compassion, self-esteem and general well-being.

“Even simple breathing techniques can help regulate your stress levels, your emotions and really improve your quality of life,” Berger said. “We know there are communities that could benefit from these resources, and we really want to just give them these tools.”

Taking back your body

“Now, if you feel comfortable, we’ll introduce some movement into the body,” Yamasaki said.

With eyes closed, she leads the class through a vinyasa flow — from a plank position, to a back-bending cobra, to a downward dog. The movement is notable for its smooth transitions between poses and the anchoring connection of the body to the breath.

To Yamasaki, the flow represents a physical, mental and spiritual connection to the body — one she never thought she’d regain after she was sexually assaulted during her senior year of college.

“I never imagined the years of disconnect I would feel from my own body,” Yamasaki said. “I wasn’t prepared for the way my past experiences of trauma would sneak up on me and manifest in various areas of my skin.”

Flashbacks and anxiety attacks pushed her to try therapy, but the thought of vocalizing some of her most painful memories made her symptoms worse. She needed something tangible, something that would allow her to regain power and control of her body.

When nothing else made sense, yoga did, Yamasaki said.

“I finally had an outlet to process the unsafe feelings that were residing inside of me, in a form of self-expression that really moved beyond trying to find the words to articulate what I was feeling,” she said.

Without having to speak a single word about her assault, Yamasaki began to heal from her own trauma by reconnecting with her physical body through yoga — discovering a new kind of energy and power within.

“Despite all the ways trauma makes it easy to feel small, yoga reminded me each and every day that I am more than the darkness that was done to me,” she said.

Now, as the founder of Transcending Sexual Trauma Through Yoga, an organization that offers yoga and therapeutic programming for survivors of sexual assault, Yamasaki hopes her teachings can empower other students as they navigate what is often a lifelong journey of healing.

Students like Emma Hayes.

Over the past few years, Hayes has put most of her time and energy into her studies at UNC-CH in hopes of becoming a therapist. She wants to give others the help she needed after she was sexually assaulted, she said.

“But I realized I’ve neglected my own body and my own healing process doing that,” Hayes said. “I’ve been so focused on everybody else that I’ve been ignoring my own needs.”

Attending the summit opened her eyes to how she can help herself heal through the practice of yoga, while also nurturing her body and her passion for helping others.

“It’s been a good reminder that I’m also deserving of love, I’m also in that group of people,” she said.

The ‘potential for change’

Outside the studio windows, the rain continues to fall. It has grown louder, heavier, steadier, but is drowned out by a voice inside.

Kratu! Kratu! Kratu!

Professor Keval Khalsa, a dance instructor from Duke, leads the group in a Sanskrit chant and dance exalting the “seed of inspiration” to end the day.

“What has it planted in you?” she asks.

Some women shared they felt empowered to talk to someone about their assault — their friends, their therapist, their campus Title IX office. Others said the summit introduced them to a new path of self-love and acceptance, finding stability and strength in their own bodies.

Almost all of them cried.

“There are many gifts that yoga can offer to trauma survivors,” Naomi Ardea, a licensed massage therapist in Chapel Hill, said during an earlier workshop on self-care. It can offer movement for strengthening, flexibility, balance, a space for inner awareness and an opportunity for spiritual connection, she explained.

“But throughout the practice, there’s always this potential for change,” she said.

Just as trauma can change the brain, Ardea explained that healing care can change it back toward health and wellness.

“It may not be back to 100 percent where you used to be, and maybe you put the pieces back together a little differently than before, but you can shift things,” she said.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley

Mediterranean Deli owner reflects on adverse childhood and success in America

By Laura Brummett

“I can’t. I can’t open it I’m too scared,” Jamil Kadoura, 19, said. The embassy in Jerusalem had rejected him at least a dozen times before. This time, he had traveled to the consulate in Tel Aviv. This was his last chance.

His friend took the papers from him and ripped them open. He slowly turned back to Kadoura, shocked.

“You got it,” the friend said. “You got the visa.”

After waiting for eight hours in a chair outside the consulate’s office, Kadoura saw a beautiful eagle staring back at him from the colorful documents.

It was 5 p.m., and he returned to his home for the past 11 years, a refugee camp in Israel. Kadoura was on a flight leaving the country by 7:30 p.m. He was leaving behind his entire family, all of his friends and the close-knit community where he had grown up.

Yet, he was lucky. Most Palestinian boys his age had dreamt of this opportunity ever since the first time “Charlie’s Angels” aired on their TV. Kadoura was going to America.

When he was 8 years old, Kadoura and his older brothers were playing with marbles on his father’s citrus farm. He had grown up on his father’s 100 acres of land with his two mothers and multiple brothers and sisters.

His “first mom” married his dad and had four sons and four daughters. Once most of the children had grown up and moved out, his dad married Kadoura’s biological mom.

His father was 41 at the time, and his mother was not quite 16. She had four more sons and four more daughters.

Just as the marbles game began to intensify, his mothers came running toward the boys, yelling.

“We have to go, we have to go right now,” his mother said.

The Israeli-Arab Conflict had reached them. It was 1968, and Kadoura’s family farm was located in Qalqilya, an area that the Israelis called the West Bank of Jordan. The Israelis were coming to claim the area as their own.

Kadoura’s family joined the line of Palestinian people escaping through the mountains with their belongings. Kadoura’s job was to carry the radio. He was young, so he didn’t have much to carry.

After about a day of walking, they stopped to rest in a cave for the night. When entering the cave, Kadoura stepped over a sleeping man’s body.

When he awoke the next morning, the man had not moved.

“Is he still sleeping?” Kadoura asked his older brother.

“Yes. Just let him be,” his brother said.

The sleeping man was actually dead. Kadoura would vividly remember seeing the man’s limp body lying on the ground for the rest of his life.

After one more day of walking, they made it to a United Nations refugee camp. The Israeli occupation was fully underway and Kadoura’s life would never be the same.

“Look how nice these people are, and we caused this”

Kadoura lived in the refugee camp until getting a student visa at 19.

The opportunity to move to the United States was a dream come true for Kadoura, which most Americans don’t understand.

“You have the freedom. Forget the finances and the money because not everyone that comes here does well, but you have America,” Kadoura said. “The America I came to was the most beautiful country in the world.”

Even though he had big expectations for what life in the United States would look like, Kadoura was never disappointed. In fact, he was shocked that the society was even nicer than he thought.

Kadoura, now 58, lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife and three children. Together, they own three restaurant locations, a market and a catering business.

The flagship restaurant, Mediterranean Deli, has won countless awards, including being named Business of the Year in 2012 by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m 100 percent sure that it’s because of my background and what I went through,” Kadoura said of his success.

His oldest daughter, Ambara Kadoura, started working in the restaurant five years ago when she was 15 because she wanted to be around what he had built.

“I felt like I needed to be a part of that because of how much he’s been through,” she said. “How could I be selfish?”

A few years after the deli opened in 1991, Kadoura experienced a drastic spike in business. The month of September 2001 brought the most sales the deli had seen to the date.

The community was coming to support Kadoura after the terrorist attacks, now known as 9/11. He was struggling with not only hurting for America, but also feeling guilty.

Kadoura tried to eject himself from American society, feeling like he didn’t belong. He referred to the attack as being done by “us” despite his friends reminding him that he was nothing like the terrorists.

As more people in the community showed support for Kadoura, he felt even guiltier.

“Look how nice these people are, and we caused this,” he said.

Kadoura’s close friends, along with his wife, worked to make sure he knew he was not to blame just because of his ethnicity.

“A lot of people didn’t realize we also went through difficult times because we’re Middle Easterners,” Kadoura said. “We were agonized, we were broken, but it made us love America more.”

You can have nothing and come back from it without hate

Kadoura wanted his children to have a good understanding of both his Middle Eastern heritage and their mother’s American heritage.

“I tell them to be proud of both cultures,” he said. “They’re very Middle Eastern but they’re very American at the same time.”

Two summers ago, the family visited Jerusalem to see Kadoura’s homeland.

“I miss everything about it. I miss the togetherness. I miss that people are close, not for financial reasons. It’s a very simple society,” he said. “Here it’s like life is on the run, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, being here.”

Kadoura’s childhood farm was never the same after the occupation began, and is now mostly a Jewish settlement.

Despite watching his father lose the land he had worked so hard for, Kadoura holds no bitterness in his heart toward the Israelis.

“Jerusalem belongs to everyone. I hope one day they make it a United Nations city where everyone can visit,” he said.

As the conflict around Jerusalem escalated over the past year, Kadoura has worked to share his experience with the community.

Ambara admires her father’s ability not to show hatred to any Jewish or Israeli people, despite the occupation. Kadoura uses his struggles as a learning experience, instead of a source for pain.

“Sometimes I don’t think like that. I get mad and think it’s not fair,” she said. “It’s a really hard thing to do.”

Ambara uses her dad as a role model for her own life. He’s taught her that you can have nothing and come back from it without hate.

“He has an impact on anyone he knows or comes across in life,” she said. “Everyone I know says how lucky I am to have him as a dad.”

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley and Jack Gallop