Growing up in Northern Ireland, writer Gareth Higgins saw local politicians who worked for peace achieve worldwide fame, yet remain ordinary people to their neighbors. “There are public figures whose work is very distinguished [but they] just want to be treated like ordinary human beings,” Higgins says. “They feel quite refreshed when they’re approached with an invitation to do something substantial rather than something that’s just flashy.”
That method has attracted The Color Purple author Alice Walker, author and theologian Brian McLaren and other notables to Asheville for the 2018 Movies & Meaning Experience — hosted by Higgins — Thursday, April 26, to Saturday, April 28, at Diana Wortham Theatre. There, attendees will watch seven movies, hear seven stories and participate in seven activities — including group discussions, quiet personal reflection and celebrations — aimed at nurturing community.
The weekend will mark Walker’s first time in Asheville. She was invited by Higgins, now an Asheville-area resident, to participate in the 2017 festival in Albuquerque, N.M., and accepted because she loves movies and believes that, in the right context, they can teach viewers a great deal. That potential will be on display at the April 26 opening night screening of the fact-based coming-of-age film Queen of Katwe.
“I love this film for its honesty and beauty, its daring solidarity with the young heroine who would seem to have so little going for her, [and] its understanding that such remarkable spirits must be celebrated and their radiance shared, especially with other youths,” Walker says. “Young people feel so disheartened and underappreciated in these times, when children are so brutally harmed all over the planet. It is good for them to see films in which they shine with their own intelligence and courage.”
Walker and director Mira Nair will have a post-screening discussion during which Walker hopes Nair will tell the audience about what drew her to the story and talk about the titular slum in Uganda.
McLaren’s April 27 presentation, The Seventh Story, grew from his theological work. He sees Movies & Meaning as carrying on the tradition of storytelling’s vitality, in tune with people moving from campfires or candlelit churches and cathedrals to more technologically advanced settings.
“For many people, we now gather to share stories by the light of a projector in a theater,” he says. “It’s tragic on many levels when stories become mere amusement, which means ‘not thinking.’ Movies & Meaning helps movie-watching to become ‘musement’ — meaningful musing or reflecting. This honors the work of great filmmakers who want to convey meaning in their art, and it honors the need of viewers who need meaning in their lives.”
While Higgins loves to introduce people to movies they wouldn’t otherwise have seen, he’d also like for attendees to depart the weekend feeling that they’ve been participants instead of just spectators. It’s also his desire that they leave with the sense that something positive has changed in their lives or that they can see a step forward. “Everybody has the same need for belonging and security, and I would hope people would come out of this feeling like we’re a little bit closer to loving ours neighbors better,” he says.
WHAT: The Movies & Meaning Experience
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave., dwtheatre.com
WHEN: Thursday, April 26-Saturday, April 28. Full schedule and pricing online