David Bland, film enthusiast and long-time member of the Ethical Culture Society, has launched several themed film series at the Society’s building. Following each film, David has provided background information and has skillfully led discussion. The last series, on Black Films, was the most successful yet. In this issue of Focus, we turn our attention to how this has evolved.
Janet Glass: David, what first gave you the idea of creating a string of themed film presentations at ECS, and when did it begin?
David Bland: I don’t remember exactly when it started, but probably around 2012. I just like movies and was looking for an excuse to share that with other people. It’s that simple.
Janet: How do you come up with your themes? To what extent do they relate to Ethical Culture?
David: I think of the movie first and then build a theme around it. I’ve been looking for an excuse to show Gold Diggers of 1933, and it’s not always easy to come up with a theme on that one. I try to always make them relate to Ethical Culture in some way, although it may not be explicit in the sense that they’re not always based around a dilemma. They’re based around how to live your life. That, of course, includes dilemmas. When I did two series on Work and Family that were very clearly about how you live your life, then it is going to encompass how you live ethically and how you lead a rich life. I did another series called the Battle of the Sexes. While there’s certainly some humor in that, it’s about how you make a life, realistically, with your significant other.
Janet: We recognize that from the inception of the idea to the advertising to the technical set-up, there is a lot of work involved. What are the most vexing problems you have encountered?
David: Well, that’s an interesting question. The easy part is showing the movies and leading a discussion. The truth is that people like to talk and once you get them going, they go. I could not do this if other people did not take the responsibility of bringing refreshments, working the door and doing the publicity. It’s just too much. All those little things add up. In terms of what I do, some of the most vexing problems are making sure the movies are available on Netflix, which has turned out to be a bigger problem than anticipated. For this last series I did, I actually ended up buying all the movies myself. I didn’t mind, except with one of them it turned out that it wouldn’t play. I played it fine at home, then it didn’t work here at Ethical and then it didn’t work at home again. And then there’s the anxiety of whether people will show up.
Janet: Can you tell us a little about the feedback you have received and your greatest satisfactions with the film series, so far?
David: The feedback’s been good. People enjoy coming and one thing that I know that’s implicit is that it’s important for the life of the Society that there be activities that are more than just coming to the Platform. There needs to be a variety of things and, I think, in some ways that has given me the most satisfaction. The truth is I do these for me, so there is some selfishness involved in it and even some self-absorption. But it makes me very happy that I contribute to the life of the Society in a broader sense.
Janet: We thank you for that, most sincerely. What are your hopes for the audiences and for the future of the film series?
David: I hadn’t really thought about my hopes for the audiences but I like to engage people, and I love the discussions. When we have a good discussion, it’s the best part. I like to hear people say what they think, and I really like it when someone says something completely unexpected which does not happen often, but does happen sometimes. I really like that.
I tried creating a Meetup group, just to get outsiders in. My idea was just to have a larger and broader audience. That was somewhat successful, and my hope is that we continue to grow the audience. The only real downside to that is with this venue. I would like to show foreign films, but it’s very difficult to see the subtitles with the way the room is set up.
Janet: This last film series has been among the most successful. It fit in with our broader theme of talking about racial issues.
David: I don’t know why it was so successful. I don’t have an answer. Maybe it’s because people within the Society brought friends. Normally we’ll have a good turn out on the first of series of four films, and then it drops. By the end it can be very few people. Good attendance on the first would be 25-30 people and that’s what we got this time on the last one. It was really terrific attendance. In any case, I chose the theme mainly because I wanted an excuse to show Black Orpheus and it fit with Society’s efforts to be more mindful of white privilege.
Janet: Thank you for all of your efforts. Is there anything else you would like to share with our Focus readers?
David: Tentatively, the next series will be about demagogues. It’s because I want to show a movie called A Face in the Crowd. But don’t go watch it.
Janet: Ha, ok. Thanks for the interview.