Micky Scottbey Jones is many things, but a serious moviegoer isn’t one of them.
The Spring Hill, Tenn.-based nonviolence practitioner and contemplative activist enjoys the occasional film, and her daughter is even studying the subject at college. But when Jones is in the mood for a new offering, she consults her Swannanoa-based friend and Movies & Meaning Festival collaborator Gareth Higgins.
“I’ll tell him what’s on my mind or what I’m going through in my life, and I’ll tell you — every time, he picks the perfect movie for me to watch,” Jones says.
She’s confident that similar results await attendees at the 2020 edition of the festival, Friday, Feb. 21, to Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. Opening the weekendlong gathering is Babette’s Feast, voted the top film in the inaugural Movies & Meaning poll of films that help humans live better. Other selections include a Feb. 22 late-morning screening of After Life from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) — a fantasy/drama about the recently deceased having one week to select a single happy memory that will then be reexperienced for eternity — and a surprise showing on the evening of Feb. 22.
“What’s new each year is the films themselves, and I think they’re always of a high quality. We try to get a range, from stuff that makes people think to stuff that stirs people’s hearts,” Higgins says.
For the event’s founder, the big differences between Movies & Meaning and other film festivals are twofold. One is the community aspect, in that Higgins and his fellow organizers are attempting to facilitate a space where the audience gets to know each other. The other piece is to truly experience the films.
“Whether that just means providing an environment where the film gets screened and the room is quiet and the lights stay down until after the end credits finish rolling — that might be enough for some people. But for lots of us, we take it further,” Higgins says. “We try to think of something imaginative to do that helps embody the films. And it’s another different thing to have [three-time world poetry slam champion] Buddy Wakefield come and screen a movie — it’s a short film that embodies one of his poems, and then he’s going to perform poetry. To me, that’s way more impressive than having a typical Q&A with the filmmaker that only scratches the surface of ‘Why did you make this film?’”
In turn, Higgins strives for the festival to be about the content of the films and their potential for social change rather than their technical merit or other esoteric aspects that could dissuade those who aren’t movie nerds from taking part. That sentiment resonates with Jones, who may not care to spend time at Cannes or Sundance but is “so grateful” for each film she sees at Movies & Meaning.
“The conversations we go on to have after are just so good,” she says. “It’s worth it just to be with the kinds of people who are interested in these conversations, who are interested in these kinds of movies and want to do the internal and external work. It’s deeply refreshing.”
Jones has taught workshops at previous Movies & Meaning Festivals, but this year, she’ll be hosting from the main stage and generally “co-creating and holding the environment.” That role includes being intentional about how attendees are welcomed, connecting with them between pieces and ushering them from one conversation to the next.
She’ll also do a talk about how black women tell their stories and sustain themselves in the process, which she notes is distinct from nonmarginalized people in the United States. Jones navigates those concepts daily in her work as the director of healing and resilience initiatives with the Faith Matters Network, where she’s known as the Justice Doula.
“My focus is really ‘How do we help activists, organizers and clergy and everyday leaders build sustainable leadership?’ So, ‘How are they taking care of themselves and each other in a way that can help them do the work they’re called to do long term?’ — which is to create positive social change,” she says. “That takes a lot out of you as a person, so my work is mostly based around helping them do their own healing work and build resilience.”
Aiding Jones’ work is a principle that she lives by — instead of “practice makes perfect,” it’s “practice makes possible.” For her, the concept means that if people practice something different, they get to see what could happen and start moving toward that shift in their lives, a notion that she feels is a key component of Movies & Meaning.
“Festivals, these short periods of time when we come together — it’s only a festival. It’s only a weekend, so I think it kind of gives us permission to try something new, to do something we wouldn’t normally do, to talk to people we wouldn’t normally talk to,” Jones says. “It stirs an imagination within ourselves as a practicing of new possibilities.”
WHAT: Movies & Meaning Festival
WHERE: Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, 18 Biltmore Ave., moviesandmeaning.com
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 21, to Sunday, Feb. 23. Options range from $10 for individual screening student tickets to $179 for a full weekend pass. Scholarships are available.