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.

Depolarizing Cinema for a Polarized World

After two years of COVID delays, venue changes, and numerous other transitions, the Common Good International Film Festival is proud to return to Claremont for its 22nd year! Since 2001, CGIFF has celebrated challenging, eye-opening cinema from around the globe that looks to make the world a better place. These films have helped foster important conversations about the nature and value of the common good—a concept that has continued to grow in importance since CGIFF’s inception. Twenty-two years on, we continue to make those conversations more enlightening, inspiring, and life-affirming than ever before.

For our upcoming 2023 festival, we have decided to take on a specific theme: Depolarizing cinema for a polarized world. The last few years have seen our planet rocked with violent international conflicts, a debilitating global pandemic, and an ever-worsening climate crisis. To top it all off, media outlets and political factions are more divided than ever, making it hard to figure out where the problems themselves even come from. It often feels impossible to find goodness in a world where hostility and hatred receive the most clicks, where people are trying to destroy rather than to build.

From February 17-20, CGIFF is offering the chance to rediscover the goodness that persists within us all. We will be screening a handpicked selection of high-quality feature and short films, each of which celebrates human kindness, decency, and dignity. Such films are not always easy. In order to look towards a better future, we must tackle global issues head-on, and the cinema that explores them should be honest about their severity. Our curatorial vision looks for films that take a clear-eyed view of political, social, and environmental issues, and that cultivate a realistic hope of positive transformation.

We must now more than ever look towards visions of unity rather than separation. We must bring depolarizing cinema to our ever-more polarized world. This is the mission of the Common Good: to find those essential sources of common humanity and cooperation, and to use them to foster a better future. 

Jim Fahey is an emerging film critic and curator who works as CGIFF’s Assistant Director. He has spent the past year building his resumé at the University of Edinburgh, where he completed a Master’s program in Film, Exhibition & Curation. During that time he served as a film critic for The Student, the longest-running student newspaper in the UK, and also began Airplane Mode, a film-review blog currently available on Substack.