The goal of Tacoma’s Meaningful Movies Project is to create a space for civil dialogue, where participants feel comfortable sharing their views and opinions without the fear of personal attacks or ugly histrionics.
Folks watch a documentary movie together and then talk about it afterward. The idea is to generate thoughtful discussion about important topics, without the heat of party politics or the relentless snark that often predominates social media platforms.
It’s a noble effort, and one I applaud. Go online, turn on the TV, or browse The News Tribune’s comments section, and you get a sense of just how rare spaces like these feel.
The effort, however, hasn’t been without its challenges. Seems the type of conversations Tacoma’s Meaningful Movies Project aims for — bipartisan, with an array of viewpoints represented — haven’t always materialized, despite the group’s best efforts. Sometimes, they’ve felt one-sided — tilted leftward.
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It shouldn’t be so hard, and it shows just how far we have to go.
Over the last two years, the group — which meets monthly and typically draws between 50 and 100 participants — has tackled issues of race, class, homelessness and the environment, among others. Its organizers use documentary films as a starting point for broader community conversations.
“The cool thing is, we get the discussion going, and we get people who try to bring both sides into the deal,” volunteer Diane Tilstra says.
“It’s a challenge,” Tilstra acknowledges when pressed on the difficulty of attracting voices from all corners.
“I’ve heard people say that the conversation and the testimonials in the discussion period have been very rich and deep to them. I’ve heard others say you’re just a bunch of liberals and there’s no room for conservative voices,” she says. “People seem to be afraid to voice their opinions sometimes — good, bad or indifferent — unless they figure out they’re part of that tribe, and they’re in line with the tribal message.”
On Friday, Tacoma’s Meaningful Movies Project – which is one of more than 20 such groups across the Pacific Northwest, from Port Townsend to Olympia to Ridgefield — will take another crack at it when it screens “The Hunting Ground,” a 2015 film by director Kirby Dick that delves into the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.
Considering our moment of national reckoning around the #MeToo movement, the film is a fitting choice. Without question, open public discussions around sexual harassment, sexual assault and consent — and the way dominant male culture perpetuates rape culture — are long overdue.
While society’s temptation to view sexual assault as a partisan issue is problematic on too many levels to reckon with, more broadly the sentiment taps into a larger truth, and one that hamstrings well-intentioned endeavors like this Tacoma’s Meaningful Movies Project. Increasingly, thanks in large part to the way society is now able to silo itself into “us” versus “other” groups, for people to feel comfortable engaging they need to feel like they’ve already won the battle for righteousness.
Like it or not, it’s an unfortunate development that’s obviously larger than one community group can dismantle.
So how do we move forward?
Undoubtedly, grassroots things like the Meaningful Movies Project provide an approachable starting point. Equally apparent is the fact that, as a society, it will take a more pronounced effort, starting with a truthful recognition of the bubbles that exist on both sides and a deliberate attempt to burst them for the betterment of us all.
“I think our whole goal is to bring documentary films for discussion into the community. And I think we’ve met that mission. I think that’s what we’re doing, with the hope that were educating, engaging, and getting people to be more actives in our community,” Tilstra says. “I feel like we’re doing it.”
Still, I can’t help but pine for something slightly more from all of us — a day when efforts specifically designed to stimulate thoughtful, reasonable and respectful dialogue around the issues that really matter are no longer so desperately needed.
Tacoma’s Meaningful Movies Project
Movie: “The Hunting Grounds”
When: Friday, Jan. 19, 6:30-9:00 p.m.
Where: Center For Spiritual Living, 206 North J St., Tacoma