Films that change the world: Local activist movie club gathers people for education, discussion on a host of social, economic and environmental issues

By Michael Beadle

For the longest time, Buffy Queen and John Buckley wanted to share their love of movies with other people. As avid film fans, they’d see an amazing documentary and say to themselves, “People need to see this.”

“We talked about it for years,” Queen said.

Finally, with the age of Netflix and 80,000 titles available to order through the mail, the idea of sharing great movies became a lot easier. But Queen and Buckley wanted to do more. As social activists eager to educate others about the benefits of organic produce, alternative energy and sustainable agriculture, they wanted to show films that could educate as well as entertain.

So they started the Movie Activist Club, which meets at Queen’s Dellwood home in Haywood County on the second and fourth Friday night of each month. What started in January has become a regular gathering of a dozen to 25 people.

No political agenda. No dues to pay. No movie critic skills required. Just bring some snacks and an open mind. The club meets before 7 p.m., watches a documentary on a big-screen TV, shares some food and drink, and opens up a general discussion afterwards. If time permits, they’ll watch a feature film with a similar theme as the documentary. Lately, the documentary alone has been enough to generate a hearty conversation, so the feature film is shelved for another night.

All kinds of people show up: Some from Asheville; Professors at Western Carolina University; Car mechanics; Doctors; Teachers; Organic growers; Retirees; Baby boomers returning to the idealism of their younger days.

“People are welcome to stay as long as they want,” Queen said.

Generally the conversation tapers off around 10 p.m.

Conversations naturally arise after the movie’s over. Everybody’s got something to say. Some reactions are “Wow! I had no idea.” Others share personal experiences and insights that led them to learn more about an issue.

“Some people are clearly taken aback,” Buckley said.

The movies range from award-winning films such as Michael Moore’s “Sicko” and Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to feature films like the Middle East thriller “Syrianna,” the teacher-meets-troubled-teens story of “Freedom Writers,” and the Michael Douglas 1980s tale of corporate greed, “Wall Street.” Other films may be lesser known to wide audiences but still have powerful messages — “Kilowatt Ours” (environment and energy consumption), “Who Killed the Electric Car?” (an alternative to the gas-guzzler automobile), and “The Take” (an innovative program in Argentina where workers can own factories).

The main thrust of the club is simply to educate people about issues that the mainstream media often misses or glosses over — stories like the proliferation of genetically modified foods and the effects of corporate greed and globalism in other countries.

With more awareness of an issue, a person becomes a better informed voter and a more active citizen, Queen added.

“We’ve got to get informed now,” Queen urges. “It’s not an option anymore.”

Not with the planet’s very survival at stake as scientists predict major climate changes in the coming decades, and future generations at risk.

Outraged by injustice or inequality, some turn to protesting or writing a legislator, but Buckley says there are other choices you can make to help create change.

“Raising awareness creates a witness,” he said. And by making informed choices at the grocery store, for example, you can promote the environment rather than support a multinational corporation that destroys it.

“Buying food is a very political act,” Buckley said. But you can’t make those key decisions — knowing the value of organic produce — unless you’re made aware of those choices.

Once you know, for example, that certain companies place profits above product safety, are you still going to support that company? Once you know that buying local produce cuts down on the huge environmental cost of transportation and helps build the local economy, will you be more willing to buy from local fruit and vegetable stands?

In a world where social, economic and political ills seem too massive to overcome, would-be activists and concerned citizens seem paralyzed, overwhelmed by the responsibility to tame the beasts of global warming and corporate greed, but Buckley maintains a humble approach.

“You do what you can,” he said. “Try to be a good example.”

So he drives his 12-and-a-half-year-old Subaru rather than purchase a new one. He shops for and eats organic food. And rather than finger-wagging others into doing their part, he invites others to ask him questions to which he’ll be happy to share what he knows.

Rather than reverting back to the protesting and marching mentality of the ‘60s — which, Buckley argues, just creates antagonistic scapegoats for the government — he and Queen prefer the more grassroots, educational approach of raising awareness about the issues and letting people make better choices when it comes to shopping, consuming and voting.

To learn more about the Activist Movie Club, call 828.926.2508 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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