Can Films Really Build the Common Good?

We’ve talked a bit about how films can be oriented toward Process Philosophy and the work of Alfred North Whitehead. Here, I’d like to explore how independent films can contributes to the common good. Most artists and creators hope their work in some way impacts culture, possibly even by changing it for the better. But can independent cinema move things further toward the common good of humanity?

My answer stems in part from my work as a pastor. In my experiences walking with people through their lives, I have observed that when something bad happens—whether within the world at large or in our communities—people want to help make things better. Oftentimes, however, people will feel helpless. There is a frustration around this helplessness, around feeling powerless and unable to intervene. As a result, we often look to big picture solutions: how can we get involved in volunteering, legislation, systemic change?

These are vitally important impulses. They make us more aware of the lived reality of our communities, whether they be local or global. They spur all of the cosmos toward a more just, loving, and sustainable future. Yet how can cinema influence these impulses? Perhaps creating an independent film for the common good, about a topic that’s pressing to these current shared experiences, could help bring about such a future!

Let us also not overlook the importance that our seemingly small, day-to-day actions can have on this future as well. Countless times in the work I do, I have seen how one person’s consistent, loving, and generous behavior has a ripple effect out to the wider community, touching people in ways they likely will never know. Perhaps films for the common good—those that address our current shared experiences—could fall into this category. A compelling social activist film can inspire us, and can result in behaviors and practices that permeate into the world at large.

This is why we do what we do at Common Good Film Festival! We believe that films for the common good—creating them, viewing them, discussing them, experiencing them with friends—can and do contribute to moving our reality toward ways of being that bring about a better world.

Alexis Lillie is the Communications Coordinator at the Center for Process Studies. She is passionate about using her theological and marketing training to help communities explore big spiritual and religious questions. She has an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary and also serves as the Associate Pastor at Church of the Village UMC in New York City. Prior to ministry, she ran her own marketing and social media consultancy for ten years. She lives in Manhattan with her daughter, Junia, and beagle, Reba.