Late-night comedians poke fun at armchair activists emboldened by social media to “dislike” away their concerns, from the Syrian crisis to police brutality. With each “like” or “share,” we limply do our part with the click of a mouse from the security and anonymity of our couches. Bill Byrnes, a Five Points resident, challenges us to get off our sofas and screens and come together for meaningful face-to-face discussions about our most pressing social issues. He established GoodCinema in August to restore human connection and meaningful dialogue around these issues.
Byrnes seeks to reclaim some of our more polarized discussions from social media. He says “It seems a lot of our conversations have shifted online and lost their authenticity. Social media has become an echo chamber of hatred and vitriol; it’s created an empathy vacuum.”
GoodCinema does not have a political agenda, but seeks to “bring humanity back into the conversation” by creating a monthly forum for dialogue around (primarily documentary) film. At each event, people learn through viewing films but also speak with those most impacted by current events. Area professionals, educators, activists, and others share their stories as a way of bringing the issues to a local and a human level. To foster discourse, Byrnes freely shares his cell phone number so even shy audience members can text a question to guest speakers.
GoodCinema has hosted two film evenings, both of which sold out theaters of about 150 at the Sie FilmCenter. In September, Byrnes featured four short documentaries—national and local—on the topic of immigrant detention. A panel of experts and activists responded to audience questions and concerns after the screening. Although representing different walks of life and some diversity of viewpoints, the two lawyers, DACA recipient, faith-based activist, and City of Denver employee clearly agreed that immigrant detention is profoundly flawed.
Byrnes says he would like to include more divergent viewpoints in the future, but having an ICE official probably would have kept some attendees from feeling they were in a safe space. Still, many in the audience appeared well-versed in the detention issue, suggesting that for GoodCinema, fomenting deep dialogue will require bringing opposing voices and viewpoints into the room while maintaining a safe and open space for all. And isn’t that the very essence of a civil society?
Byrnes plans to host film screenings in different communities and theaters to promote both large and small community discussions and engage people to get involved. The next film, Crown Heights, is a feature based on a true story of wrongful incarceration, and will show at Alamo Drafthouse (Sloans Lake) on October 16. For more information, to buy tickets or inquire about sponsorships, go to GoodCinema.co.