If you’ve never heard of Autumn Plies, I think you will someday. She’s the kind of person who really should be famous. She teaches a class called “Philosophy Through Film” at View Ridge Prep in Seattle, and she must be the coolest teacher ever! Ms Plies has been an extra in seven films, is working on a book, and speaks at youth events around the country. She also knows a TON of Hollywood people, whose names you would recognize, but I am sworn to secrecy. (Even though I want to tell you SO BAD!!) Thanks, Cindylou for “introducing” me to Ms Plies after she spoke at your youth convention.
1) What do you teach in your “Philosophy Through Film” class? What are some of the films you use? Do your students get credit for watching movies? Can I be in your class?
What is taught in our class? Well, lots of things. But I guess when you really get down to it, it’s about being more mindful of the message in the entertainment and media we consume. There are all kinds of messages we’re being sent today. Most of us just take it in without asking ourselves “what are they really saying here?” Honestly, discussion is the most important part of film viewing, and I try to give my students an environment that encourages this.
We use many, many films in our class. They change with time. Some are a solid requirement. Sometimes it depends on what’s current and relevant, it may relate to current world and political issue, or just be popular at the time. What’s great about film is it can give us a chance to discuss an issue that may be difficult to discuss outside of the context of film.
So what movies have we been watching in the class?
I can tell you some we’ve seen this past year AMADEUS, TEMPLE GRANDIN, CHILDREN OF MEN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL , A.I. Artificial Intelligence, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, BIG FISH
Yes, they get credit for watching the films. In fact it’s a requirement that they watch all of the films assigned. And the neat thing is- these kids really want to. For this class the students who wish to participate have to write an essay explaining why they wish to take the class, and their parent(s) have to sign off on it. They take it rather seriously. Since we deal with difficult subjects sometimes, we like to have the parents be aware of the class and issues we are addressing. It also helps them feel better about sending their kids to a nice school just to sit around and watch movies.
Can you be in our class? Yes, of course I’d love to have you join us, Get started on that essay!
No, seriously, you and your readers are welcome to visit us anytime.
But if you can’t make it all the way out here, and still want to learn more about the spiritual perspective of film, try this book Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies by Jeffrey Overstreet. Fantastic resource. It really helped me during a dark time, and got me back on track. To the film lover, person of faith, or faith seeker, it belongs on your shelf!
2) What’s the difference between philosophy and spirituality?
By definition, philosophy – the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
spituality -the quality or fact of being spiritual. Alright, that was the teacher side.
Now, let me be a friend and share this with you- I really believe because of how we’ve been created, there is an inner longing to connect and to be inspired, and we can’t get away from this.
It’s impossible to run from this desire, it is central to our being.
Connect and inspire. Film does both of these things for us. It connects us to others, a story, a message, an idea, another world, a different time, and it can inspire is to incredible heights, take chances and make choices we hadn’t considered before. I think it is incredibly important that we seek and consider the spiritual elements in film. When I started to do this, movie-going became a much more rewarding experience. Not to do so, is cheating yourself out of the best part of it.
But I think it’s difficult to separate the two. For me, they go hand-in-hand.
3) What’s your book about?
Oh, well…the book, really is a collection of thoughts and insights based on teaching this class over the last three years, and what got me here.
When I was younger I really wanted to go to film school. I was really naive and hopeful. I was on the right track, had many friends who were on that same path. My friends were doing well, making incredible strides and I wanted to be right there with them. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s not what happened.
A long-term illness affecting a family member required me stay close to home. Problem was- I still needed to get an education. I started out with a film appreciation class at the local college. Frankly, I didn’t want to take anything else. At the end of the class it occurred to me I’d just spent several weeks of my life, and a couple hundred dollars on something that wasn’t going get me where I wanted to be.
Over dinner a friend once asked me how my time still living at home could best be spent. “What’s your crazy crack-pipe dream? Biggest you can go and still stay here?” First was to help my mother die in grace, to ease her pain as she crossed into heaven’s light. Then my crazy idea was to find the beauty and grace in film, and to teach others to find that light in a meaningful way. MOVIES…..If I couldn’t be there, in them, with them, I was going to show others how to appreciate and enjoy them more.
I wondered what it would be like to write and develop a curriculum for students using film as a vehicle to teach a real and meaningful topic.
I studied teaching, and took all the film/art classes I could fit it.
I wrote class outlines and critiques for the work of fictional students. During all of this I continued to tend to my mother in her pain. I learned more about grace and love through our time together.
After her passing I started to explore schools that might be open to my “crack-pipe dream” and View Ridge Prep was really the only one that dared to give me a chance to fail or succeed. And so far-I don’t think they’ve regretted it.
I’ve learned a great deal about the very thing I teach from my own students. Teachers are always saying “I really don’t teach them, they teach me.” It’s cliché, but true.
Through my students I learn new insights, perspectives, and hear the fantastic questions they pose. Many things I’d not considered before.
You know, I just laughed to myself thinking – They say “those who can’t do, teach” and I guess there’s something to that. Here I am, showing, teaching others, when I thought I wanted to be there in Hollywood…and yeah, I guess that’s what the book’s about.
4) What are your three favorite films? Why?
Oh that’s a dangerous question. Favorites. Don’t tie yourself down to favorites. Don’t limit the value of films.
I will tell you about three I really do like
1. CHILDREN OF MEN – really it’s about a dark, depressed world during a difficult time. They are hopeless. Then the birth of a baby is their new hope, and the film is about a journey, getting the woman across to safety so that she can give birth because the future of the world depends on this child. …….Remind you of another story? You tell me.
2. UNBREAKABLE – a (near) perfect film. I really don’t want to say too much about this one because so much of what I love about this one gives away what it’s about.. And if you haven’t seen it before- I’d hate to ruin that for you. But when you watch it- pay attention to the use of colors. GREEN and PURPLE. I really think this is the strongest piece from M. Night Shyamalan. Let’s all hope he gets back on track…soon. I think he’s lost his way.
3. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – I mention this one for the girls but I do like it. I can watch it just about any time. Rainy days, at home with the flu, grading papers, or just with friends. It’s a good one. I love the bits about the cat. Pay attention, it says a lot about Holly herself. I love that Capote wrote it….seems ironic. And who doesn’t love Audrey? You know Marilyn Monroe was the original cast for her part? I’m so glad they went with Hepburn. And what’s not to love about the Moon River scene? She’s actually singing, and it’s precious. Much more authentic than when they had someone else sing for her in MY FAIR LADY.
5) What are some films that you think have spiritual themes that most people wouldn’t think of as spiritual?
A lot of films actually. If you consider the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, a lot of films are spiritual. If you see an element in a film that challenges, promotes, encourages growth in any of these fruits- it can be seen as spiritual.
If you’re just looking for a name of one – AMADEUS. I’d suggest watching that and asking how you’d define what worship is, and how we should approach it.
6) What’s it like being in a movie? What was your favorite one to be in? Was that spiritual?
What’s it like being in a movie? – Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of waiting around. A lot of repeating something you’ve just done, changes made last minute, sometimes when doing exterior shots it’s tough. It could be hot or cold, your feet hurt, late nights, or have to do a wet/rain scene.
Once I was playing a student at a high school (looking younger than I really am gives me more opportunities like that), and it was February and really supposed to be winter. Great, right? No. Problem was, we had a weird heat wave and it was 87 outside. All of us were in sweaters and coats and still had to pretend it was a gray, dreary, cold day.
If you get to do a lot of studio work, you’re spoiled.
But with all that said, it’s a blast! For those of us who never want to grow up, it’s great. You get to play pretend, dress up, and interact with others who feel the same way, and your grown-up friends still think it’s cool.
Favorite one? Don’t have one. But I am working on my first period piece in a few weeks. It’s set in the 1940’s and is about a famous baseball player and I am really looking forward to it.
Spiritual? Anytime you come together to work with others in harmony it’s like a spiritual experience.
7) Do you follow a particular religion? Which one? Why that one?
Yes, I do. My faith is a large part of who I am and greatly influences my work and how I see things.
I am a Christian because I believe it to be true. I have found a tremendous amount of light and grace in Christ. Now before you roll your eyes and think “oh, Christians,” know this: we all make mistakes, and to be honest other Christians really get under my skin sometimes, I have to remind myself I’m not a Christian-follower, I am a Christ-follower and that helps me keep balance and perspective. Even Ghandi is credited as saying “I like your Christ, not your Christians.”
I like to remember this because it really helps me to be more that kind of person I think Christ wants me to be.
8) What famous Hollywood people do you know? (Just one?)
Nice try…. my lips are sealed.