Early this year, some friends from church approached me about organizing a monthly film night. They had just finished remodeling their single-family home in Brooklyn, and they were feeling generous towards their neighbors, and maybe a little thankful to God for the good fortune of a beautiful new home. So, armed with a video projector, fresh popcorn, and an unpainted sheetrock wall, we set about creating a little living room cinema.
Initially, I wondered what the purpose of such a “movie night” would be. We live in New York City and can attend any number of awesome film and culture events – so why bother? What hooked me was the chance to see people with whom I always intend to socialize but never actually do. I see these people in church every week, but our lives only rarely connect beyond that pew (or folding chair in a lunchroom, as is the case at my church).
And even though I live in New York, I don’t like paying New York prices and dealing with New York crowds. Movie theaters on a Friday night can be such a source of tension. Did you remember to buy tickets ahead of time online? Did you fill your pockets with affordable snacks from the bodega? If not, you’ll be paying twenty-five cents per kernel at the concession stand and can end up seeing a Hollywood action sequel when your quirky indie pick is sold out.
Maybe a movie in a friend’s living room wouldn’t be so bad after all.
There is also the issue of my Netflix queue, which is filled with the films I actually want and the films I feel I should watch. There are dozens of titles to which I never get: those old foreign dramas I heard about in film school, the slow paced but worthwhile documentaries that will make me a better person. They hover down at the bottom of the queue.
I have had two Holocaust-themed documentaries on my shelf for six weeks, but what I really want on a boring weeknight is another mindless and entertaining episode of Mad Men. Good movies have become like salad – I know I should eat it, but is there any chocolate, instead? In the face of these weaknesses, my church’s Indie Movie Night always ensures some edifying viewing.
But watching good films isn’t all work either. Our Indie Movie Night has been a success, drawing different people each month and helping us get to know one another beyond small talk. So, if you are considering starting up your own, here are some guidelines:
Challenge. People want to engage more with their movies. Maybe they suffer through my picks because they’re free, and movie tickets in New York cost more than $10, but I get the feeling people value movies that get them thinking. We’ve watched a lot of documentaries for that reason; we can immediately begin discussing the topic at hand. Which brings me to the next point.
Talk. People want to talk about movies. In fact, some people are movie viewing experts with way more opinions than you’d expect. Because I choose the films, I am the one who gets the conversation going. But when we are sitting around with a group after watching a movie, it doesn’t take long for others to share their (often strong) points of view.
Most of us are media experts just because we consume enormous quantities of media. But most of us consume that media in isolation, with no one to share those thoughts with in person (though there are no shortage of places to voice your opinions online, of course). When conditions are right, the opinions overflow. Oddly, in church we feel like one body, but here we get to see the viewpoints that make us individuals.
I’m not just describing a difference in tastes for romances verses comedies; I’m talking about the moment you realize that a woman who has served coffee to you at church for ages is actually an expert on ocean acidification, and you never knew! We have so much to offer one another, but it requires getting to know each other – which brings me to my final revelation.
The right conditions (or, food and drink). Our hosts are big on popcorn, and not the kind that comes out of the microwave – real popcorn, with melted butter and salt. A weaker person than myself might be tempted to come along just for the snacks, and they would be satisfied. No one is doing any elaborate baking, piping, or pairing cheeses with preserves; it’s all simple, but there is plenty of it, and drinks, too. We stand around snacking and chatting for a half hour before the film. By the time the movie starts, our stomachs are full and we’ve left behind the busy week.
If you are looking for some film recommendations, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!