Cinema is our greatest empathy machine, so soak these up and go be the good in your community
I live and breathe cinema in a way so central to my being that I believe this passion can only come from my creator. And over the last several years, I’ve been transformed in an ongoing fashion by the mission and vision of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an Austin-based non-profit where I serve as the Community Cinema Director. At our Community First! Village we live to empower communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless as we provide permanent, long term housing for Austin’s chronically homeless. Somehow, amidst the beauty (and chaos) of that lived mission, I get to run an outdoor amphitheater we call the Community Cinema. Formerly homeless neighbors at the Village earn a dignified income working at events that we host and we welcome anyone and everyone to come experience free movie nights with us and, in turn, experience our revolutionary community.
I’m always searching for ways to harness my love for cinema to make change in the world. Cinema is our most potent empathy machine, after all. Cinema and MLF alike have molded and shaped me into a more compassionate and empathetic individual, seeing hope in places I never before believed possible. So I thought I’d share a unique top 10 list: The top 10 films of 2018 that may just challenge you to be a more compassionate and empathetic individual.
These films reflect my own taste to a degree, but also in some way espouse, celebrate, depict, or highlight the core values of Mobile Loaves & Fishes or authentically give insight into the lives of our friends and neighbors who find themselves homeless (or did at one time). I believe anyone would do well to soak in these films, allowing them to walk in unique shoes in a way only movies can.
10: Minding The Gap [R]
“Skateboarding is more of a family than my family”. A young skateboarder turns his cameras on himself and his friends as they grow up and captures a documentary far more profound than the sum of its parts. Exploring generational abuse, neglect, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and the the power of a creative outlet like skateboarding, Minding The Gap depicts bondage to our pasts and true freedom in equal measure.
9: The Rider [R]
“I believe God gives each of us a purpose. For a horse it’s to run across the prairie. For a cowboy it’s to ride”. A young man from the plains sees the rodeo as his only chance for a better life. When he’s injured, he must chart a course for a life that may not live up to the dreams he once had. How do any of us pick ourselves back up and move ahead in life? It certainly isn’t by our own “bootstraps”.
8: Thunder Road [R]
The most “indie” film on this list, shot right here in our own Austin, TX, Thunder Road is the unraveling and possible redemption of a struggling man. Portraying the loss of a parent, divorce, custody battles, employment struggles, and one man just trying to get by… this is a vulnerable and singular piece of work.
7: Blindspotting [R]
This is America. Youthful, angry, and energetic, Blindspotting covers it all: race, parole, police shootings, gentrification, white privilege, hip hop. From some of the creators of Hamilton. This one will stretch you. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry.
6: Eighth Grade [R, but highly recommended for mature teens]
Kayla Day is just trying to make it through her last week of eighth grade. And no film will set off your empathy meter more deeply, or make you squirm through the awkwardness of youth today, like this one. An authentic look at growing up in America today, being a young girl, and even teen/parent dynamics.
5: Paddington 2 [PG, Watch with the whole family]
“If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right” Silly and fantastical? Yes. But as Paddington Bear looks for the good in all of us and stumbles his way through adventures, his relentless goodness becomes infectious and he changes the world around him in spite of all the odds being against him. How can we be more like Paddington?
4: If Beale Street Could Talk [R]
“Remember, love is what brought you here. And if you’ve trusted love this far, don’t panic now. Trust it all the way.” Far and away 2018’s most powerful exploration of the salvific bond of a loving family and a caring community who is willing to go to any lengths to preserve love. This gorgeous film depicts the unique beauty and struggle of a black family in Harlem in the 1970s.
3: Leave No Trace [PG]
“Where is your home?”
“With my Dad”.
“It’s not a crime to be unhoused, but it’s illegal to live on public land”. A father suffering from PTSD and his teenage daughter forge a life for themselves camping in the pacific northwest. As the father’s PTSD and the daughter’s need for independence clash, a powerful exploration of what homelessness truly means emerges.
2: Shoplifters [R]
A makeshift Japanese family gets by on the verge of homelessness by caring for one another and, yes, by shoplifting. Their familial bond is threatened by the government in the year’s best (and most achingly beautiful) exploration of how society punishes you for being poor, and how when your own family fails you, sometimes you have to choose a new one.
1: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? [PG-13, but quite family friendly]
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving” — Fred Rogers. Goodness. Period. A documentary chronicling the life and career of Fred Rogers captures the spirit of goodness and the power of the “neighborhood” and handily becomes the most “must watch” film of 2018 for those in need of hope.
And I’m Out.