Freshman Seminar: Everything’s Cool

Professor Beverly Peterson in the English Department asked me to sit in on her freshman seminar this week to talk with her students concerning the film, Everything’s Cool, by Judith Helfand. Judith came to William and Mary the semester before to speak to my ENSP 250: Communicating Climate Change class on the importance the media plays in disseminating ideas to a larger public. Media campaigns are a large reason why Judith’s films have had so much success and widespread coverage. Judith’s talk went well, and most students enjoyed the film, although this particular freshman seminar was not impressed.

“It seemed simplistic and cliche,” a young girl offered as others around her nodded their agreement. “I don’t think it offered much.”

As a filmmaker and educator, I try to get students to think beyond entertainment value and think about the purpose of the film. Will a film help to change minds completely? Probably not, but it can get viewers to begin to question other areas of their lives. For instance, one student found the sequence on the converted veggie oil car quite interesting. I asked him if he’d start driving a vehicle that could be powered on veggie oil. “Probably not in the near future,” he said, “but I sure would consider it in the future.”

As conversation picked up, I realized there was a lot of good the students took away from the film. Expectations were initially high. As long as debate is started, then perhaps the film serves it’s purpose? The conversation shifted at this point. I asked what exactly is the point of issue driven films? How are we to solve problems by getting people to watch a movie? We agreed that perhaps films weren’t the best solution to problems, but they were excellent spotlights. They help to bring to light issues that need addressing. BUt once the film has someone’s attention, it is up to others to use that attention for good and constructive means.