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A Discussion on Humanism in Film

To the Thinking Humanist Film Freaks:

Robert Birch and I had talked with him about my facilitating a meeting where we would discuss the possibilities of humanism in film. There have been many efforts to do this nationwide and several continuing film festivals having been themed around the notion.

I have offered this to the Tampa Humanists Association, the Tampa Bay Thinkers, and the Art Film Freaks. It has been scheduled for a week from Saturday at the Jimmie B Keel Regional Library as the regular monthly meeting of the Tampa Humanist Association. You can sign up at any of the links below:

http://www.meetup.com/Tampa-Humanist-Association/events/79171352/
http://www.meetup.com/tampa-bay-thinkers/events/79179122/
http://www.meetup.com/Art-Film-Freaks-Discussion-Group-of-Tampa-Sarasota/events/79177852/

The meeting would begin with a short (believe it or not) introduction where I would provide a framework to consider whether a film expresses basic humanist notions and offers a way to consider whether the aesthetic judgment of the film might be assisted by these notions.

The basic consideration for whether a film touches humanism or has humanism as a centerpiece in its themes and power, we will look at the elements of the Humanist Manifesto III. This document offers six notions that can be organizing principles for our discussion and I have picked up a couple more.

A. Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

B. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

C. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

D. Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

E. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

F. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature's resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

G. Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

H. Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

With these notions in mind, any film can be judged as to whether it carries one or more of these themes (A through H), whether these themes are somewhat profound (Yes/No) and whether the artistic power in the film comes from the presentation of the humanist themes (Yes/No).

Of course we cannot simply use such a dull approach so I will be asking those in attendance to either pick a film from the list or name one that isn’t there and have a go at explaining how it touched the humanist in you. I really want to go over the following four films for sure:

The Shawshank Redemption
Blade Runner
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Lars and the Real Girl

Part of the discussion will be to consider the principles of humanism in the manifesto and have some fun mixing and matching film themes we have noticed to the principles. We will work our way through the four films to illustrate a method that any self professed humanist can use while watching and thinking about any film. Please look through the list and pick one or two that have moved you and think how they may have touched the Humanist in you. This should help us prepare for a lively and open discussion after that and then at lunch.

As part of a ‘rigorous’ study, I took 40 of the films below and applied my obviously biased considerations of what themes I saw in each. I then looked at the categories and figured out what percentage of the films had a perceived theme. The results of this analysis were as follows:

A. Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. – 44 percent

B. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. – 20 percent

C. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. – 48 percent

D. Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. – 18 percent

E. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. – 31 percent

F. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. – 13 percent

G. Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. – 7 percent

H. Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. – 11 percent

That should give you lots to think about. Until then, just be thinking about films from the list that you have loved or questions you may have for the session. This will not be a lecture and everyone better come with something to contribute.

Dale Friedley
Thinking Humanist Art Film Freak

Films some have referred to as Humanist

300
2001, A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Full Metal Jacket
Blade Runner
Thelma and Louise
Chocolat
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Match Point
Love and Death
Annie Hall
The Crucible
Deliver Us from Evil
Elmer Gantry
Eye of God
The God Who Wasn't There
Hell House
Inherit the Wind
Jesus Camp
Marjoe
Monty Python's Life of Brian
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
The Name of the Rose
The Night of the Hunter
Nightmare Alley
Kiss Me Deadly
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Osama
Planet of the Apes
Queen Margo
September Dawn
The Seventh Seal
Persona
Tartuffe
The Handmaid's Tale
The Truman Show
V for Vendetta
Viridiana
Waking Life
Fast Food Nation
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A Scanner Darkly
Little Children
The Wicker Man
Sin City
The Shawshank Redemption
The Invention of Lying
The Driver
Drive
Valhalla Rising
I Am
Lars and the Real Girl
Half Nelson
The Believer
American Beauty
The House of Sand and Fog
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Martyrs
Enter the Void
The Conversation
Wages of Fear
The Devils

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