Love and Justice: A Film Series

By Rachel Revelle

film-series-300x225Happy New Year, and welcome back for spring semester! The holidays, amongst other things, seem to be a time for blockbuster movies and lots of hype about the newest releases. This year we’ve got the interesting thematic combination of Lincoln and Django Unchained, along with the theatric importance of Les Miserables. Then we can throw in the latest installment of James Bond and Texas Chainsaw to round out the lineup.

While some I’m sure are truly thought-provoking, and others quite entertaining if nothing else, the fact remains that I hardly ever seem to find time to go to the movie theater.  So, it is partially in the spirit of convenience, that I am looking forward to seeing several films this semester through the Ethics Film Series.

Each spring the Kenan Institute partners with the Center for Documentary Studies, the Arts of the Moving Image Program (AMI), and Duke’s Screen/Society to host a series of film screenings around a certain theme. Postdoctoral Fellow Amber Diaz spearheads this effort along with Hank Okazaki, the Exhibitions Programmer at AMI.  This year we are excited that a couple of the films are selections from the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival.

Here again Kenan is engaged with the arts as a way to draw people to conversations they may not otherwise have had. And this route, in particular, seems to attract more community members than we sometimes see at Duke events. In the post-film discussions there is a refreshing mix of commentary from attendees who are eager to share their ideas and make the experience of film more enriching. Faculty discussants see this as a casual atmosphere in which they can also express their opinions in a productive way. There’s just some guilty pleasure in sitting down for a movie in the evening—but if you come away with eyes opened a little wider and with the camaraderie of a shared pursuit of meaning, then there’s nothing guilty about that at all!

So what will we be considering this spring?  The theme for the series is Love and Justice. These are ideals that most of us would claim to value, but considering them together brings up possible tensions. I’ve already had a good conversation with Amber about how these broad concepts can be juxtaposed, and how she came to choose them for the theme. She pointed out that associations with love are often mercy and compassion, whereas mercy seems in stark contrast to justice. “We tend to think of justice as the cold legal arm of the law, something that should be interpreted, but not humanized,” she said.

Some questions arise with these tensions.  If we want to show love, should we withhold justice in order to be merciful? Does our love sometimes cause us to go beyond the bounds of justice, say if a loved one is harmed? Amber would also like us to consider, however, how love and justice might complement each other. A tagline we’ve put together for the series comes from American theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr, who published a collection of short writings on love and justice. He said, “In so far as justice admits the claims of the self, it is something less than love. Yet it cannot exist without love and remain justice. For without the ‘grace’ of love, justice always degenerates into something less than justice.”

As you’ll see from the schedule, we have four films, both drama and documentary. They are widely varying storylines, but it seems they all portray strong protagonists who will be searching along with us for the truth of love and justice. Will they find justice without love? Love without justice?

I hope you’ll be able to join us, starting on Monday night with the Clint Eastwood drama Gran Torino. All of the films are at 7:00pm in the Griffith Film Theater in the Bryan Center. An entertaining evening with an exploration in ethics—you can count on Kenan for that!