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    Reflections on the Advent of the Reel Spirit Movie Project

     

    Center for Spiritual Wisdom’s “Reel Spirit Movie Project” recent inaugural film discussion was a success by most any measurement. Fourteen people attended by Zoom to discuss “Dead Man Walking” on August 27, 2020. The discussion offered both depth and breadth, touching on all intended themes envisioned by the project: a celebration of the art of filmmaking and the exploration of social, religious, intra-personal, and spiritual dimensions. The discussion was rich, enjoyable, and, for many, ultimately affirming. As of now, the project has a monthly slate of films queued up through February 2021, with “John Lewis: Good Trouble” coming October 15. And yet, for a brief time, such success seemed unlikely.

    The original vision of the project was much different. Aligning with the success of Phillip Henry’s Pisgah Film House, the Reel Spirit Movie Project had assumed in-person viewing followed by discussion. Cost containment was a big consideration, as the Center hoped to do better than break even, while providing outreach and service to curious and conversant souls. Questions abounded. How much for licensing fees and space to rent? Should we charge admission? Should we rely on gracious donations? What type of movies? Then, entering stage left, right, everywhere! came COVID-19. A question—the question—came to the project committee in early March: Do we even do this?

    Of course, we did, after rethinking the delivery and discussion model. Instead of in-person viewing and discussion, participants would view on their own and then meet electronically to discuss. And while it seemed we were forced into making accommodations to outside forces beyond our control, by remaining open to the promise of the project we may have found a cost-effective, geography-busting model that outlives the pandemic. Open hearts and open ears lead to opportunity, not abandonment.

    But wait, there is more! The committee had vetted a good and long list of potential movies and narrowed to a few “top five” for consideration. “Dead Man Walking” was eventually selected after a process through which committee members watched movies and then gathered to discuss merits and demerits. This method of selection was certainly fun, thorough, iterative, and ultimately instructive as one lesson became clear: it is not a particularly efficient method of selection. Again, open hearts and open ears lead to the opportunity to allow the passion and eagerness of a would-be presenter to guide the selection process. And ACTION! – a six-month slate was ratified over a short couple of weeks of consideration.

    And now one final sip of open-hearted refreshment: having chosen “Dead Man Walking” as the first film and still attempting to master the capabilities and limitations of Zoom, the committee hosted a dry run among a dozen or so caring supporters of the Center. Instead of a mere technology test, what the committee received was robust—if unplanned—feedback on our approach. Committee-born ideas, such as sending out a discussion guide in advance, the playing of clips, the etiquette of participation, were all affirmed by the test group. What we had not anticipated was the unambiguous and near-unanimous encouragement that our discussions focus on the resiliency and yearning of the human spirit, rather than its failings. “Dead Man Walking” certainly presents such a dichotomy and does so in stark existential terms. This feedback fed directly into the selection of clips and framing of the discussion questions. So, yet again, open hearts and ears helped ensure that the resulting discussion on August 27 was more celebration than sour consideration.

    Reel Spirit serves refreshments! Get yours at the next film discussion on October 15. Discussions are scheduled monthly on the third Thursday and will be posted on our Programs page at centersw.org/programs.

    Terry Decker

    movie camera