“The best films entertain us, inspire us, and reflect the world around us in thought-provoking ways,” says Courtney Small of Cinema Axis. Ahead of Sunday’s Academy Awards, Courtney and four other film critics and enthusiasts share their perspectives on the role of cinema today.
Will McKinley, Cinematically Insane
When I was 11, my father took me to see Plan 9 From Outer Space, the 1959 sci-fi classic sometimes called the “worst movie of all time.” The screening was in a rundown high school auditorium, the seats were uncomfortable, and the audience was filled with characters odder than those on the screen.
I was in heaven, which tells you all you need to know about me. That my dad took me tells you all you need to know about him.
Cinema is meant to be shared, and favorite films are like heirlooms we pass down from generation to generation.
It was his fault, after all. From the Little Rascals to the Universal Monsters, my father spent the first decade of my life introducing me to movies he loved during his childhood. More than 30 years later, I do the same thing with my nieces and nephews. Cinema is meant to be shared, and favorite films are like heirlooms we pass down from generation to generation.
Last summer I took my nine-year-old nephew to see Plan 9 at a repertory theater in New York.
“When was the first time you saw it?” Sammy asked.
We talked about my father and that screening in 1981. Sammy never got to meet him, but it felt like he was there with us.
Courtney Small, Cinema Axis
The best films entertain us, inspire us, and reflect the world around us in thought-provoking ways. This has always been the role of cinema and it will continue to be so in 2017. While the goal of cinema may be the same, the role of audiences is evolving.
It is important that audiences continue to seek out works outside of their usual comfort zone.
Audiences are starting to both demand and embrace more diversity in film. Whether it is championing movements like the #52FilmsByWomen project on social media, or helping films like Hidden Figures stay atop the box office, viewers are sending a clear message that they no longer want paint-by-number sequels. Just look at last summer’s poor box office results for proof of this.
In a time when the fear of the unknown threatens to divide us along political, racial, and gender lines, it is important that audiences continue to seek out works outside of their usual comfort zone. Films that provide insight into the lives of those who may seem different to us on the surface, but whose tales of family and love speak to us on a universal level. After all, the beautiful thing about cinema is the way it unites us.
Michi Trota, The Bias
It might be cliché, but with great power comes great responsibility, and while the job of cinema is to provide entertainment, there’s nothing that says entertainment can’t also challenge audiences to broaden their understanding and dismantle oppressive systems. Movies are larger than life and their role in shaping our perceptions in the current political landscape is even larger. It matters who we’re asked to identify with on screen, and whose perspectives are informing the stories and characters we consume.
Movies are larger than life and their role in shaping our perceptions in the current political landscape is even larger.
As the current regime seeks to erase the legitimacy of marginalized voices, the power inherent in cinematic storytelling requires a response that elevates those voices and faces to the forefront. Doing so further erodes already-crumbling boundaries and tired assumptions about whose stories actually matter and who audiences really want to see. The evidence this is the future cinema must strive for is there for anyone who cares to look: Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Arrival, Lion, Fences. Stories that delight us, break our hearts, and open our minds to possibilities and worlds we’ve barely imagined, are not mutually exclusive with stories told in a plethora of voices all vital and valid, that center power and humanity outside of white supremacy, and are rooted in the demand we not deny the humanity of those who are unlike ourselves.
Cinema is undoubtedly entertainment, but what entertainment means, and who it’s meant to entertain, are unavoidable questions creators must continue to push the art form — and audiences — to answer honestly.
Aurora Bugallo, Once Upon a Screen
I promise you that my original answer was enlightened and insightful. It included all sorts of facts about cinema’s extraordinary power in society. I explained how it is a conduit for social change and offered details about its defining role in globalization. That answer is the one I would have given just a few weeks ago, but today my answer is personal and — I believe — more powerful.
I lost my father recently, and in the days since my mind has frequently circled back to the movies. I’ve thought about the many times he told me about his going to the movies as a youth and about how he’d escape into the darkness of the movie theater. I’ve thought about his favorite movies, about how much he enjoyed watching the tough guys that Bogart, Muni, Cagney and Robinson played, and I remembered the times we watched them together. I’ve also thought about how dear those moments are to me now.
It is the great generational equalizer, the facilitator of memories, and the great escape.
Then it occurred to me that that’s exactly the role cinema still plays in the lives of millions. Since its inception, cinema has been uniquely ubiquitous in world culture. It has been and remains more influential than newspapers and books and enjoys an incredible power to unify. Today’s movies may not necessarily be my movies in the same sense that I feel ownership of the classics, but they are still forging lasting memories for fathers and daughters the world over. That is the role of cinema in 2017. It is the great generational equalizer, the facilitator of memories, and the great escape. As it should be.
Richard Alaba, CineMuseFilms
Once upon a time, the word “cinema” meant the building where you saw movies. Today it’s a cultural powerhouse and a bedrock of modern civilization. It refers not only to movies but any audio-visual storytelling medium including the online world. Cinema in its broad sense is the most widely accessed source of global culture, where people of any age, race, class, gender, sexuality, or political persuasion can find information and ideas to inform their values and identities.
The world is in deeply troubled times and cinema has a sacred trust to tell the truth.
Cinema has thrived since moving pictures first appeared in 1895. The next generation of cinema is predicted to be more interactive, networked, miniaturized, mobile, social, and convergent. Cinema nurtures democracy by providing universal access to world-culture.
Cinema has serious responsibilities. The world is in deeply troubled times and cinema has a sacred trust to tell the truth. In 2017, filmmakers around the globe must confront new threats to the values of our era. Misuse of power, corruption, and despotism rear their ugly heads. New stories must be told in ways that reflect not only what is, but what can be. No alternate facts, no fake truth. Cinema exists for the betterment of humanity.
What, to you, is the role of cinema today? Explore the Film archives for more.