I’ve never taught a film class before. I didn’t go to film school (yet!), and until the last few years, my interest in film was confined to the walls of the theater. Still, film and I go way back.
It started when I was 16 and worked at the Gateway Cinema in Anderson (when they actually used film) which is now a Shell station. Back in the day, I worked the night that “ET” came out, when the Halloween series was born, and during the time “Cujo” became a bigger hit than it really deserved to be. On my breaks, we were allowed to go fill up our popcorn and soda containers and go sit and watch a movie for 20 minutes. After hours, the staff would stay around and watch movies together until the wee hours of the morning then go up on the roof and watch the other stars so dense in the Northern California sky. Good times.
In my college years, I dated a guy who hired me and all my family to be movie checkers. (Here’s hoping it’s safe to now release our identities.) We would be given assignments to go to different theaters, buy tickets, order from the concessions, and go to the movies. After, we filled out a report, sent it to the corporate office, and were reimbursed plus paid a fee for our service. It meant movies were free (actually, you made money to go) and kept me regularly attending films. When we broke up, our checking life came to a collective halt.
But living in LA, movies abound, and I didn’t stop going. Also in LA, screenings are a big deal and everybody wants you to come to a free screening. I started enjoying that because you could often see scenes that weren’t in the final cuts. Take “Dances With Wolves.” Remember Kevin Costner’s bare butt? Well, in the screening, there was a lot more of it. (See what you missed?)
My husband and I have gone to movies in the real theater (I’m not even counting the home viewing experience) for 20 years. In fact, our first date was Johnny Rockets and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” in the Santa Monica Promenade. We snuggled and he stroked my forearm for two hours. Lovely. I remember it just like it was yesterday. To this day, our date night is dinner and a movie. We rarely miss a week. When we’re feeling spunky we may even get two movies in over the weekend. That means over our relationship we’ve seen over 1,200 movies out. Between us, and all the movies I’ve gone to with my kids over the years, we’ve definitely earned the “buff” title.
Over the past year, I’ve become very interested in documentaries. This is crosstrainer stuff for me. I’ll explain. I do the crosstrainer for an hour and watch half a documentary one day and half the next. I average three a week because I exercise daily. I started developing a fascination with how much information I could learn in 2 hours. There’s no other way to do that. Reading takes me far longer on the ratio of learning to time. Audiobooks cut off my visual sense. But when I’m watching a documentary, I’m transported to another culture and dropped into a true story of something that happened.
All of it goes back to my love for story in all forms: oral, written, auditory, visual, live and on screen. I love it all, though right now I’m just really in love with film. I’m also in this process of awakening to my own spiritual truths. Don’t read that as religious, because that’s not even close. I think religious systems have a place for some, but they make me feel boxed in and more distant from my Creator. I think of spirituality as those steps that make that connection electric and constant, and that’s what I’m after.
So for this class, I chose spiritual films of all different types: documentaries, docu-dramas, regular dramas and shorts. It was important to me that the friends who would be watching these with me would be touched in the same way I was watching these films. I wanted them to leave, inspired, and ready to experience fuller, happier lives even if they were already happy. I wanted to drop uplifting visuals and words into their subconscious minds that would carry them through their days with a kick in their step. After the films are over, and we have some time to integrate what we’ve seen, I’m reminded so strongly how connected we all are, and how story is such a fabulous way to see that. When we’re all watching the same story it’s like a choreographed ballet under the moonlight while George Winston plays “Autumn” on piano at the Greek Theater. (That may be too specific of a memory for you, but for me, it’s perfect.) We laugh together, cry together, have an “aha” moment together–all in two hours.
I’m not about rushing things or shoving a bunch of stuff in, but we live in a world where that’s part of the gig. The kids need to get to their soccer games, the parents need to get to their jobs, the social stuff needs to find a place in the calendar, blah, blah, blah. We buy ready made veggies just to save an extra two minutes cutting lettuce. How many times do you hear people use the word “busy” to describe their lives (often with a badge of pride) and talk about how things will slow down when they retire. (In my experience of observing retirees, that rarely happens.)
Because of this, film makes great sense. There is really no other way you can learn about a culture of aboriginal people and their relationship with the whales while being transported to Australia and meeting indigenous leaders from all over the world in two hours. (That’s Whaledreamers about the Mirning people, their brothers and sisters the whales/dolphins, and the assault against their land. Phenomenal doumentary.)
Each week my class attendance has increased, and each week I feel more and more blessed. Today, my friend and student Christy stood up in front of the congregation and said (I’m paraphrasing), “You’re missing out if you don’t get your butts to this class.” That made me smile knowing she feels the same way I do about it. What started in a small rural theater as a high school job has turned into a passion, and I’m just so happy to have a group of students to share it with.