Notes from WATERtea:

“Let’s Go to the Movies”

with Linda Pieczynski, Dolly Pomerleau, and Margarita Suarez

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 2pm ET

Mary E. Hunt’s introduction

Welcome one and all to WATER’s May 4, 2021 tea.

WATER programs are aimed at supporting and igniting social change. Whether in theology, ethics, or ritual, WATER’s efforts are geared to bring together solid academic/scholarly data with the activist commitments of our Alliance. We came up with the idea of looking at films because they play such an important role in shaping our cultures. Moreover, many films have international reach so they are important media for communicating ideas. Why didn’t we think of this sooner?

Three colleagues spark our conversation today:

Linda Pieczynski says that she “has been a film lover since high school when her English teacher, Sr. Marie Blanche, regularly held film festivals for her students.” Linda has had a long career as an attorney in private practice. She is the former President of the Board of the Catholic social change group Call to Action. Linda was a valued board member of Dignity USA. In both arenas, she was an effective leader and a faithful ally. Thanks, Linda, for sharing your ideas with us today.

Dolly Pomerleau co-founded the Quixote Center with Bill Callahan in 1975 and worked there for more than forty years. She is sort of retired now but you’d never know it because she remains very active in mind and body. She is an internationally known activist for Catholic women’s equality, and a tireless worker for people in Nicaragua. Dolly’s pottery is coveted in our circles, and her garden is the cause of envy. When she finds times for films I don’t know, but Dolly, I’m glad you bring your sharp senses to the genre and will share some ideas here today.

Margarita Suarez is Professor of Religious & Ethical Studies at Meredith College, a women’s college in Raleigh, NC. Her primary area of research has been Christianity in Cuba and interfaith studies.  She teaches courses in the Anthropology of Religion, Race and Religion in the U.S., Interfaith studies, and Women and Religion. She says that her “household includes her spouse, son and his fiancé, 3 dogs and a cat. Margarita has recently been vaccinated against Covid and is hoping to go the theater soon.” She uses films in her college classes, and we are lucky to have her insights today so we can incorporate more films into our work.

Linda Pieczynski

  • Love of movies started in the late 1960s in high school and was reinforced when she met her husband: the first person she dated who also knew who François Truffaut (famous French film director) was; “movies have kept us going” for 49 years
  • Watches movies every Saturday night, and found it sustaining through the pandemic
  • Husband volunteers at the Chicago Film Festival which went virtual this year; this is the first year in many that they weren’t able to attend the Toronto Film Festival
  • Roger Ebert: film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times – brilliant critic who shaped their tastes
  • Her categories of suggested films:
    • The importance of family, friends and community
    • What is means to be human/life and death
    • Black lives matter
    • Class differences
    • Coming of age
    • The awe of the universe
    • Fun films
  • Her Catholic upbringing informs/influences the kind of movies she watches
    • She doesn’t see movies as entertainment or escape, per se, but to learn and be moved, looking for the transcendent)
  • Movies that help us step into the experience of someone else
The importance of family, friends and community
Title (+Country/Director/Descriptor) Where to Watch
Minari – Korean/American In theaters; rent
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman) – Swedish HBO Max
Babette’s Feast (Danish) HBO Max
A Sunday in the Country (Bernard Tavernier) – France The Criterion Channel
The Godfather pt. 1 and 2 (Francis Ford Coppola) Paramount+ (via Amazon PrimeVideo)
Babe (1995) HBO Max
Won’t You Be My Neighbor (documentary) HBO Max
The wedding banquet (Ang Lee) Buy on Amazon
Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee) Rent
Local Hero (Bill Forsyth) Scotland Rent
What is means to be human/life and death
Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman) – Sweden HBO Max
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) – Sweden HBO Max
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman) – Sweden HBO Max
Innocence – (2000, Paul Cox) Australia Buy on Amazon
Derzu Usala (Akira Kurosawa) – Japan Buy on Amazon
The secret in their eyes (Argentina) Rent
The lives of others (Germany) Rent
Of Gods and Men (French) Rent
Up (animated, Disney) Disney+
Wall-E (animated, Disney) Disney+
A Fantastic Woman (Sebastian Lelio) Chile Rent
Black lives matter
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins) Netlfix
The Hate U Give FXNOW; Rent
Waves Showtime (via Amazon PrimeVideo or Hulu)
Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) Netflix
One Night in Miami (Regina King) Amazon PrimeVideo
Class differences
Parasite (Bong Joon Ho) Hulu
Nomadland (Chloe Zhao) (also her earlier film The Rider) In theaters; Hulu
Les Miserables (2019 French version – modern times) Amazon PrimeVideo
Coming of age
400 Blows (Truffaut) HBO Max
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Netflix
Little Women (Greta Gerwig) Starz (via Amazon PrimeVideo or Hulu)
Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) – Mexico Netflix
School of Rock (Richard Linklater) Rent
ET (Spielberg) Amazon PrimeVideo
The awe of the universe
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) Amazon PrimeVideo
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) Rent
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) HBO Max
Contact (Robert Zemekis) Tubi; Rent
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) FXNOW; Rent
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg) Rent
Just for fun
Chicken Run (stop-motion animation) Rent
Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon (stop-motion animation) Netflix
Bringing Up Baby HBO Max
A Hard Day’s Night HBO Max
Standing in the shadows of Motown (documentary) Amazon PrimeVideo
20 Feet from Stardom (documentary) Rent
The Commitments (Alan Parker) Rent
Love Actually Rent
Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks) Hulu
The Producers (Mel Brooks) HBO Max
The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci – creator of VEEP) Netflix
Strictly Ballroom (Baz Lurmann – later did Moulin Rouge) Rent


Dolly Pomerleau on Nomadland (2020)

  • A documentary producer and movie editor friend – her guru in movie-going and understanding the “underside” of movies and how they’re produced – guides her viewing
    • Introduced to movies such as Driving While Black and Nomadland that wouldn’t have watched otherwise
  • Has a niece who has spent the last five years on the road with her partner working art shows
    • Nomadland has helped her understand that lifestyle
  • Cast made of mostly real nomads and Frances McDormand is the only/main actor
  • When getting ready to leave, surrounded by family, and is told “It’s so sad that you’re homeless” – McDormand’s response: “I’m not homeless; I’m houseless.”
    • Free of everything that ties you down, responsibilities, daily demands
  • Strong solidarity among nomads, helping each other including training McDormand for what she’ll need to do to deal with human waste where there’s no running water
  • In the movie, McDormand is shown working at Amazon:
    • Not sure if portrayed accurately – not a leisurely or comfortable job
    • Amazon recruits nomads for stocking as it’s a time-limited job
  • As people go to their next destination, they don’t say goodbye, they say “see you later”
  • McDormand really likes being isolated, likes being on her own
    • Is offered housing and long-term companionship multiple times, but turns them down
    • Find yourself cheering for her in those decisions
  • Soporific pace – no highs or lows, just carries you along
  • As much as liked the movie, the population of nomads in the movie being mostly white/not very integrated, wondered about the diversity and possibility of nomadic life for POC

Margarita Suarez

  • Started watching movies on TV with her mom growing up
  • Wanted to see everything
    • How can movies be something utilized in classes?
  • started with “Jesus at the Movies” course, where she showed films about Jesus from the last 100 years, starting with Cecil B. DeMille’s silent 1927, King of Kings, through a contemporary South African film, Son of Man.
  • This course got her thinking about what it would be like to include films in some other classes
  • Added films to “Anthropology of Religion” course, then in “Religion & Globalization in the Americas,” and most recently “Race and Religion in America”
  • Movies are additions to readings: nearly always pair a film with either journal articles about the film(s) or minimally reviews
  • Examples of movie shown in Anthropology of Religion:
    • Holy Ghost People documentary showing religious worship service in WV Appalachia where they do snake handling and drink Strychnine
      • Religious uses of the body: how does the body get used in a religious setting, starts discussion on how is the body part of one’s religiosity
      • Pairs with article on snake-handling as sacrament
    • Mostly uses documentaries which fit with the themes of religion and anthropology
  • As long as it is an engaging film, both “Hollywood” and documentaries are effective
  • Sometimes difficult finding a “Hollywood” film that fits both the historical topic and includes religion in some aspect – easier to find ethical content in the non-documentary films
Jesus at the Movies
Film Director Where to Watch Comments
King of Kings, 1927 Cecil B. DeMille HBO Max I really like the filmic elements, from Mary Magdalene lounging w/ her tigers, riding in a chariot pulled by zebras, and her exorcism by Jesus
Ben Hur, 1959 William Wyler Rent Christian/Roman epic, mostly about the Jew, Judah Ben Hur, but Jesus certainly has a presence.
The Gospel According to St Matthew, 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini Amazon PrimeVideo The socialist Jesus?
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973 Norman Jewison Rent Based mostly on John’s gospel, but has some serious antisemitic content
Godspell, 1973 David Greene Rent Fun, clown loving Christ
Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979 The Monty Python Troupe Netflix It’s Monty Python, what more needs be said? For the younger among us, they were a British sketch comedy group in the 70’s.
The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988 Martin Scorcese Showtime (via Amazon PrimeVideo or Hulu) Based on the Katzenzakis book. Wm Dafoe as Jesus is a bit strange.
Jesus of Montreal, 1989 Denys Arcand YouTube French w/ English subtitles. I think this is a wonderful film. Actors performing in a passion play in Montreal, however, they re-write the script using critical, historical biblical scholarship. And a surprise ending.
The Passion of the Christ, 2004, shown w/ The Passion of the Jew (South Park, March 31, 2004) Mel Gibson Amazon PrimeVideo I couldn’t just let folks watch The Passion of the Christ without something else, so when I found that South Park had done a send up of it I had to show it
Son of Man, 2006 Mark Dornford-May Plex (?) South African Film. All Black cast. A beautiful, powerful film. In K’hosa w/ English subtitiles.
Anthropology of Religion
Film Genre Where to Watch Comments
Fires in the Mirror One woman, performance piece (Anna Devere Smith) In parts on YouTube (?) on the Riot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, 1991 between the Black community and the Jews
Flowers for Guadalupe: The Presence of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexican Women’s Lives Documentary pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico
Holy Ghost People (1967) Documentary Rent snake handling in Appalachia – A study on a small Pentecostal congregation in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia.
The Spit Horn: The Life of a Hmong Shaman in America Documentary
Witchcraft Among the Azande (in Africa) Documentary YouTube
Sacred Journeys: Hajj Documentary PBS?
Totem: The Return of the G’psgolax Pole Documentary YouTube
Religion & Globalization in the Americas – Latin America (LA) & the US
Film and Location Genre and Theme Where to Watch Comments
The Mission – LA (1986) Hollywood film – Conquest Rent
Traces of the Trade – US Documentary – Slavery follows an Episcopalian clergywoman, whose family were the primary slave traders from Rhode Island, as she re-traces the steps of the Triangle Slave Trade (RI to West Africa to Cuba to RI)
La Ultima Cena – LA Cuban Film Institute – Slavery YouTube a film about slavery in Cuba
1776 – US Hollywood film – Independence Rent
Romero – LA (1989) Hollywood film – 20th Cent Tubi; Rent focuses on the Archbishop of El Salvador and his theological movement toward Liberation Theology
Lee Daniel’s The Butler – US Hollywood film Netflix
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry – US Documentary Amazon PrimeVideo focuses on 2nd wave feminism
Jesus Camp – US Documentary YouTube scary film about an evangelical family camp which indoctrinates children into this specific branch of Christianity
Race and Religion in the United States
Film Genre Where to Watch Comments
Birth of a Nation (1915) by D.W. Griffith Hollywood silent film Rent a truly terrible film, not one I would care to watch again, but given its historical, contextual importance both as a major silent film (3hrs) and as an example of the horrors of both slavery and Jim Crow it is worth watching once. Be warned, this film is NOT denouncing Jim Crow, rather it is setting up the idea that Black men are dangerous, especially to white women. BTW, it was screened in Wilson White House and loved by all
12 Years a Slave Hollywood Hulu
Birth of a Nation (2016) Hollywood Rent Well done film about Nat Turner, as preacher and later as rebel leader.
Raisin in the Sun (1961) Hollywood Rent
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee) Hollywood Starz (via Amazon PrimeVideo or Hulu)
BlacKKKlansman (Spike Lee) Hollywood Rent I like virtually all Spike’s films, some are better than others, and these two above, if you’ve not seen them, they are worth the time.
13th (Ava DuVernay, filmmaker) Documentary Netflix film about the 13th amendment to the constitution and how it set up Black & Brown people, especially men, to be incarcerated. Be warned, it is very intense. I had to watch it in two seatings, ‘cause it was just too much for me at one seating.

Q+A Discussion

  • Learned from sharing together in the small groups: Write down the names of movies you watch to help remember and look back
  • LGBTQ film festival in Italy showed Boy Erased last year – about conversion therapy
    • In response to the viewing, was asked by the group, as a theologian and minister, what Christianity looks like when LGTBQ-friendly and -welcoming
    • Amazing experience: this chance to give a whole lecture on justification by faith to a cinema full of people – could talk about a different Christianity that doesn’t “beat people with Bibles for being homosexual”
  • In Hong Kong (where many people are homophobic), showed screening of Boy Erased
    • The Miseducation of Cameron Post – also on conversion therapy
  • Generational differences in watching movies
    • Gen Zs (and millennials, to some extent) getting media from short-form via YouTube/TV shows/TikTok/etc.
    • Less exposure to film and those themes
    • Leisure time in general is misconstrued/split-up differently
    • Many of Margarita’s students don’t watch full-length movies, and many don’t know “old” movies
  • Has trouble watching current films as can’t differentiate between actors: not everybody looks like Cary Grant
  • Helpful to put movies into categories

Closing, Mary E. Hunt

Warm thanks to our lead-off speakers, Linda, Dolly, and Margarita. Thanks to all for suggestions on films. We are adjourned for today with gratitude to all and wishing you many enjoyable/challenging times at the movies.

Below is the list of movies submitted from the WATER community – thank you to all! Disclaimer: We, the staff at WATER, have not watched and vetted all of these movies; we trust you to watch them at your own discretion.

Linda Pieczynski’s suggestions for choosing and watching films:

  • Read trusted reviews by film critics.
  • Check IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes for critics and user reviews, trailers, descriptions of films and where to find them
  • Your local library can also be a great place to find films on DVD.
  • Look for virtual film festivals or create your own. Check out other films by some of the great directors listed below.

To find where to watch the movies:

  • Some streaming services often switch out what movies they have available (especially HBO Max), so where to watch a certain movie can change – do a Google search or look on to double-check
  • Most that are on streaming services can also be rented elsewhere
  • What streaming services offer can vary country to country –listed below is where it is available in the USA
  • Rent: you can usually find the movie to rent on Amazon, YouTube, or GooglePlay
  • The spaces where it’s blank are harder to find/you have to buy it in DVD form (a good time to check your local library’s collection!)
  • YouTube has a surprising number of movies available to watch for free
Title Genre/Theme Where to Watch Comments/Blurb
As It Is in Heaven (2004) comedy-drama After having a breakdown, a famous conductor (Michael Nyqvist) returns to his remote village and inspires a church choir.
Blindspotting (2018) comedy-drama Rent two young men, friends who grew up together in Oakland, spent nine years writing, producing, and starring in this film looking at the loyalty of friends to each other: “riveting” and “poetic”
Roma (2018) Coming of Age Netflix A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s
An Education (2009) Coming of Age HBO Max a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London whose life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age
Inherit the Wind (1960) Courtroom Drama Rent dramatization of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 – a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution
Strangers in Good Company docufiction (semi-documentary/semi-fiction) Fandor (via Amazon PrimeVideo) about 8 women on a day-long outing that takes a detour: poignant and powerful story of women discovering their strengths and the power of community
13th Documentary Netflix history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on US prison population being disproportionately African-American via the 13th amendment of the US Constitution
Faces Places (2017) Documentary Rent constitutes a profound victory lap for Agnes Varda, the New Wave photographer
My Octopus Teacher Documentary Netflix the deep connection we humans have to other animals and the respect we should have for their intelligence
The Biggest Little Farm Documentary, environment Hulu two farmers take a farm spent by commercial farming and use sustainable methods to restore the soil
The Human Element Documentary, environment Tubi Documentary on climate change
Crip Camp Documentary; ableism Netflix how disabled adults who attended this summer camp in the Catskills in the early 1970s achieved a sense of themselves as independent adults and traces their development into civil rights activists on behalf of ending discrimination and (physical) barriers against the disabled
Rebel Hearts Documentary; Catholic In 1960s Los Angeles a trailblazing group of nuns, The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, bravely stood up to the patriarchy of the Catholic Church, fighting for equality, their livelihoods, and their own freedom against an all-powerful Cardinal who sought to keep them in their place.
Driving While Black (2015) Documentary; racism PBS PBS documentary about how traveling modes have impacted the Black community; including how the Green Book helped develop Black businesses, etc.
I Am Not Your Negro Documentary; racism Netflix, YouTube, Amazon PrimeVideo James Baldwin’s personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sorry We Missed You (and all Ken Loach movies) Drama Rent Hoping that self-employment through gig economy can solve their financial woes, a UK delivery driver and his wife struggling to raise a family end up trapped in the vicious cycle of labor exploitation
Nomadland Drama based on nonfiction In theaters; Hulu older women taking to a modern nomad lifestyle; about being houseless vs. homeless
Amadeus (1984) drama-epic-biopic Rent The life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as told by Antonio Salieri, the contemporaneous composer who was insanely jealous of Mozart’s talent and claimed to have murdered him.
Grand Canyon (1991) Drama, crime HBO Max The fates of several people are intertwining randomly. Their sympathy of each other faces multiple differences in their lifestyles.
Promising Young Woman Drama; Feminism In theaters; Rent disturbing, but the idea of a woman taking revenge on society’s “nice” guys who are abusive to women and get away with it
Imitation of Life (1959) Drama; race/class/gender Rent An aspiring white actress takes in an African-American widow whose mixed-race daughter is desperate to be seen as white.
Children of Heaven (Bacheha-Ye aseman) foreign film Rent the journey of a small Iranian boy to get back a pair of his sister’s shoes
Stray Dogs (2004) foreign film YouTube Two Afghan siblings spend their days struggling to survive on the streets of Kabul and nights sleeping with their imprisoned mother.
I, The Worst of All (1990) foreign film, biopic, religious the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Celle que vous croyez (Who you think I am) (2019) foreign film, drama older woman falls for a younger person and the role of social media; gets us thinking about what it means to be a woman and an older woman at that
La Teta Asustada/The Milk of Sorrow by Claudia Llosa and Madinusa foreign film, drama A woman struggles with the fear inherited from her mother, who was abused during the period of violence in Peru, and her anxiety manifests as physical sickness.
Julieta (or any by Pedro Almodóvar) Foreign film, Drama A chance encounter causes a woman (Emma Suárez) to reflect on the tragic circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her daughter.
Three Colours Trilogy (Blue; Red; White) by Krzysztof Kiéslowski Foreign film, Drama HBO Max each loosely based on one of the three political ideals in the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity
Silence (2016) Historic, drama Rent In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy, and to propagate Catholicism.
Summerland Historic, drama Showtime (via Amazon PrimeVideo or Hulu) During World War II, an Englishwoman opens her heart to an evacuee after initially resolving to be rid of him in this moving journey of womanhood, love and friendship.
Xuan Zang (2016) Historic, drama Chinese-Indian historical adventure of Xuanzang’s seventeen-year overland journey to India during the Tang dynasty in the seventh century.
Julia (1977) historic, drama At the behest of an old and dear friend, playwright Lillian Hellman undertakes a dangerous mission to smuggle funds into Nazi Germany.
Milada Historic; political Netflix about the Czech politician Milada Králová-Horákóva (1901- 1950); spoke out against the Nazis long before the Nazis reign of terror took hold in Europe; part of the resistance movement in Czechoslovakia during WWII and post-war continued to speak out against the Communists who took power
One Night in Miami Historic; racism Amazon PrimeVideo “Black men living in true community with each other give us all a way forward where there seems to be no way forward.”
Green Book Historic; racism Rent Superbly done, but, in hindsight, it gives a limited view of businesses listed in the Green Book (in my opinion)
Get Out Horror; racism Rent A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
Maxima Indigenous rights About Maxima Acuna, a Peruvian indigenous farmer trying to save the plot of land where she lives with her family in the Peruvian Highlands from a multi-million dollar corporation
Boy Erased (2018) LGBTQ Rent the son of a small-town Baptist pastor forced into attending a conversion therapy program; while there, Jared begins his journey to finding his own voice and accepting his true self
The Miseducation of Cameron Post LGBTQ Rent In 1993, a teenage girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians.
Margen de Error (2019) LGBTQ, foreign film older woman falls for a younger person and the role of social media; gets us thinking about what it means to be a woman and an older woman at that
Judas and the Black Messiah Racism quite powerful; useful for reframing or filling in some of the narrative around the African American community and the police
The Hate U Give Racism FXNOW; Rent the aftermath of a police shooting for a young black woman
King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille) Religious HBO Max silent film depicting the last weeks of Jesus before his crucifixion
Son of Man (2006) Religious Plex(?) an alternate retelling of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection set in modern-day South Africa
Paris, Texas (1984) Road movie/western HBO Max Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who has been missing for four years, wanders out of the desert and must reconnect with society, himself, his life, and his family.
The Present (2020) Short film, Palestine Netflix short movie but painful to watch; Yusuf and his daughter set out to buy his wife an anniversary gift, a gesture demanding much patience and negotiation skills in the West Bank – about the daily living circumstances in Palestine