We live in a movie tsunami! Films wash over us like so much flotsam. We've got constant access to all kinds of images -- images that often, without our knowing it, stick to our psyche like gum under theater seats. That's why there's been lots of talk lately about the responsibility of filmmakers. They're told to think carefully about the images they conjure and to consider seriously the effect their films will have on a pliable society.
But what about audience responsibility? Shouldn't we be more careful about the stuff we let into our brains? And don't we have some responsibility to process and then act upon that material in ways that will enrich us and our world?
As a professor of screenwriting in the School of Film and Television at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, I spend lots of time drumming social responsibility into the heads of emerging filmmakers. I've written about that in two books and spoken about it internationally. But last week, when I was moderating a panel at LMU discussing A Place At The Table, (Participant Media's new documentary about hunger in America), I wanted audience members to respond by doing something about that hunger. When a filmmaker sends out responsible images and presents social issues in compelling ways, audiences should do more than sit passively, absorb everything, and applaud. They need to reciprocate. They need to think, process and become consciously involved.
When a film moves us, inspires us, makes us feel something, we need to act on those feelings. And that's especially true when that film exposes injustice or informs us about vital social issues that impact lives. We need to start discussion groups, donate to charitable organizations, organize fundraisers, contribute to or join organizations that work for social change and anything else we can think of. We need to do something!
Lots of people don't want to accept that. I believe that this is a function of our detachment from our own relationship to life. Because we're so busy and preoccupied with our own concerns, many of us have come to see lives other than our own, as inconsequential. This underscores our profound egotism. We fail to relate to "strangers" as part of the collective "us."
That's why when a film like A Place At The Table comes along that presents viable information, explodes myths, debunks stereotypes, and tells us that a profound social problem can be solved if enough people care, we've got to act. If we ignore truth or minimize it, we minimize ourselves.
If we're moved by a film (documentary or narrative), if we learn something from it, if it awakens us to a situation that is intolerable and egregious, we need to engage in social activism because righteous indignation isn't enough. We've got to take responsibility for what we see and what we learn. If we don't do that, we become little better than sponges lying inert at the bottom of a boisterous sea. That may work for invertebrates but for those of us with spines who believe the world can be a better place, we've got to step up and exert our power by becoming responsible audiences members and compassionate human beings.