Writing about culture–is it just adding to the noise?

When you go to a concert, read a book, attend a poetry reading, take a trip to the theater or visit a museum, I like to think that you’re starting a conversation with an artist. They’ve created this outpouring of creativity to try to reach your heart, your mind, yes, even your soul. If they succeed, you’ve been moved and you want to share that experience with others.

That water cooler moment when you share your thoughts about it, transforms that passive experience of you taking something in, into a transformative experience where you can relive the joy or share that knowledge learned. It makes you feel good to share those feelings or to warn someone to skip a show that you know they’d find offensive or bland.

I’ve often compared writing about film as a process similar to discussing wine. You gain an understanding of films and wines by sampling many types and learning about the craft. You can discuss nuances and enjoy flavors and discerns smells that might be missed by others. But still, you bring your own palate, your own experience to the table. My top pick of an Orin Swift Cellars Mercury Head wine or the Polish masterpiece, the film Cold War may strike you as overwhelming or pretentious. And what does my opinion matter to you?

A.O.Scott, one of the top film critics at the New York Times wrote a marvelous piece about criticism, A Critic Reviews His Own Role. He argues that writing about culture is akin to news reporting though “inherently subjective”. “No reader will agree with a critic all the time, and no critic requires obedience or assent from readers. What we do hope for is trust*. We try to earn it through the quality of our writing and clarity of our thought, and by telling the truth. The truth, in this case, about what we thought about what we saw, read or heard.” (*my emphasis)

What critics hope to share is what moved us. We want you to be inspired and to seek out the gems that might not get the attention we feel they deserve. That’s why, though I enjoy “Best of” Lists, what I love is lists like The Most Under-Appreciated Films of 2018 from Indiewire. When critics I respect, like Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle write rapturous reviews of films I’ve heard might be disasters ( “Vox Lux” review) or I read on Twitter that Kate Erbland and Tomris Laffly mention a film I should see on Netflix (Happy as Lazzaro), I make time to sit in front of a tv or seek out a film screening. Even though I don’t always agree with David Ehlrich, I crack up reading his reviews on Letterboxd. Manohla Dargis wrote an insightful piece on Barry Jenkins’ new film If Beale Street Could Talk and it makes me want to see the film again.

Whether you’re trying to save yourself money by not purchasing a ticket to an event that you’re not sure about…or looking for something exciting and fresh…find a critic writing reviews you can trust. Whether it’s in a paper, on a website, a blog or an Instagram post, you can start a conversation. It will lead you to an experience that’ll be worth your time and money. And who knows, it might enrich your soul.

Rise Up! How to combine social activism with film screenings.

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So you care about the environment? You might feel like I do, that Climate Change is the biggest issue we face right now. Or maybe you’re fighting for marijuana legalization, reproductive rights, or getting out the youth vote in 2018. If you’re feeling powerless or want to make a difference and don’t know where to turn…HOST A SCREENING!

This weekend I got to see The Human Element, the latest climate change film from photographer/writer and film subject, James Balog. Director Matthew Testa does a great job of mastering the balance of depressing statistics, awe-inspiring footage with the humanizing tale of one man’s journey to understand and communicate what’s facing our planet. There were many scenes set in Boulder and Denver and it really brought the issue home for me.

If, like me, you didn’t get to travel to the San Francisco Green Film Festival where The Human Element screened, there were other community screenings as the filmmakers partnered with the Earth Vision Institute. Colorado State University in Fort Collins screened this inspiring documentary in a conference room, and combined it with a great discussion on how to act locally. What can you do as a citizen activist about this overwhelming issue? I’ve included a photo of some of our ideas for actions on the Front Range. You can also host a screening of this film in your own community!

There are screenings of social activism films at many film festivals: ACT Human Rights Film Festival, traveling screenings from Mountainfilm or Human Rights Film Tour + every film festival seems to have at least a side bar of activist-driven films. Films are a great way to engage audiences and get them to think globally and act locally this election season. With issues such as a new bill being introduced by Colorodo Oil and Gas facing Colorado voters, why not host a movie night as a Get Out The Vote event. As the League of Women Voters would say: Educate, Advocate & Impact!

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The documentary that I had the pleasure to work on, Mary Janes: The Women of Weedtraveled the film festival circuit. Audiences embraced the film’s message about overturning stoner stereotypes and celebrating the women who’ve made inroads into the cannabis industry.  Now, rather than chasing a distribution deal, Director Windy Borman has chosen to partner with TUGG.com so that communities can host their own screenings.

Puffragettes at a screening

Puffragettes at a screening

You can even invite any of the 15 Colorado women of cannabis in the film to speak to your audience afterwards.

So next time you care about an issue, you might find that there’s a film that supports your mission. Find a theater or a community room and gather your friends with some local experts. Start your own local revolution! Rise Up!