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An Introduction to Transformative Film: How the Best Movies Can Change Our Lives




“These newsletters serve a demographic of highly intelligent readers, and deep thinkers with a passion for ideas, critical thinking, and unknown possibilities. The path to finding happiness are among those ideas. Readers of my posts are usually tired of being patronized elsewhere by fact-less, opinionated know-nothings, who complain about everything they don’t like, but lack a willingness to think about, find resources, or create life hacks, shortcuts, and solutions to fix what they don’t like.” For short, summarized excerpts from these articles subcribe at AskLewis.Substack.com


On a personal note: Please excuse grammatical errors, typos, repetition, and any general nonsense, and such in this post. I am getting a bit older now, and I have about 20,000 pages of information that must get published before I leave the mortal coil. I simply write and publish more than my humble editors are able to correct. If you find enough errors you are welcome to contact me about being an editor of my work.
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Q. Lewis, They say that a “picture is worth a thousand words”, yet few teachers of self-improvement, personal development formally use video, documentaries, or movies to promote a point of view. What is your thought about this?

A. I agree, that this is a real challenge. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I would imagine that a great film would be worth a hundred thousand words.


So, what makes a film transformative, or even the best movie of all time? Of course, there is writing, acting, directing, cinematography, costume design, light, and so much more.  Films like Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, or Keanu Reeves in the Matrix Trilogy can profoundly influence us.

Though there are always going to be new movies, there are many old classics and independent films to get us thinking. On the Waterfront was directly related to the Hollywood Blacklist and “naming names”. The movie, Avatar addressed environmental issues and respect for nature.

Film has the ability to make an emotional connection and enable people to experience their own power.

At times a film can educate, motivate and inspire but most of all it can break down barriers – emotional and otherwise in ways that years of formal therapy will fail to do


“To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.”

– Akira Kurosawa.

Sadly,  it is true that here in this age of YouTube and Vimeo, few school teachers at any level make film an important part of their educational playbook.


When I was in high school, back around 1966, a black history teacher had us watch the movie The Birth of a Nation. One of the most racist films ever made, this is a film that most likely could never be shown in a school today in the United States (maybe in Tennessee). Watching The Birth of a Nation, transformed my life, and got me interested in film as a social force and influencer. Ever since then I have sought out great documentaries and films on a regular basis.


In my own life, I have had the opportunity to personally work with many filmmakers including the documentarian, Michael Moore. For a number of years, I was a member of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures a non-profit organization of New York City area film enthusiasts. Its awards, which are announced in early December, are considered an early harbinger of the film awards season that culminates in the Academy Awards. As part of my membership there, I had the opportunity to speak with Barbra Streisand and Clint Eastwood.

I recently decided as part of my regular newsletter postings that I would share some of my favorite transformative films. Films that caused a marked change in how I thought, spoke and made choices.

Often the influence of film on special needs and extraordinary children can be surprising. There is a report that when the Marx Brother’s film Duck Soup was shown to children classified as with the autistic spectrum the response of the children was surprising. It’s basic narrative and black and white photography allowed these children to watch a film with their peers and for the first time laugh at the same moments. There are reports of an elective mute at another school who spoke to her teacher for the first time to ask to audition for a place in a film they were making, and who has since proved to be a stand-out performer.

I have always recommended that my students in the RealUGuru project form support triangles of at least three people who are watching and discussing films much as one might do in a book reading club.

At the very least watching films with others is a leveler. There are many people who are shy, have poor confidence, or have poor networking or social skills who are confident talking about film. This is probably because it is something they have engaged with already.  Visual media is so pervasive in society that even a person who thinks they don’t have the level of experience needed or feel they aren’t intelligent enough to discuss a book or a magazine article will discuss a film.

Even children challenged by severe learning disabilities and difficulties who have short attention spans can relate to a movie. There is a universal quality to film that anyone in any culture can understand.

For the visionary thinker, a film can spark discussions about issues that are often difficult to address. Film can transcend or tackle, such issues as racism, sexism, or homophobia.

Critiquing the way films are constructed and the decisions made by producers can be empowering.


Audio, visual and kinesthetic factors are important as a way of creating a real cinema experience and enticing individuals to engage. This means it is often valuable to view a film through a high-grade entertainment system and to serve fresh-popped popcorn.

At times it may be valuable to encourage an individual to which films they were not automatically drawn to and ask them to be critical or won-over.

Many life skills, as well as moral and ethical lessons, often spill over into the viewer’s reality.

One of the most powerful effects of film on visionary thinkers is that the magic of a film can bestow authority and validates the experience of a person who has chosen to go against the common wisdom on their life journey.

To watch a film is both the experience of art and the expression of art.  Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory, or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.  In their most general form, these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.

The oldest documented forms of art and visual arts, which include the creation of images or objects in fields including today painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media including filmmaking

Film of course can include music, dance, and other performing arts, and re-create theatre, and literature.

The art of film can be used to represent of reality, narrative (storytelling), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities.

Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency,  aesthetics, and creation –  all qualities inherent in the filmmaking process.

The best films, like the best within any art form Generally, art can be defined as an expression of humanity’s creativity and imagination with the possibility of inspiring an emotional response. Regardless of the film, it’s rare for someone to leave a cinema without an emotional response to what they’ve just watched. In addition to the creation of traditional film narratives with actors the imagination of concept artists has led to the creation of fantasy worlds that could only come to fruition through the development of animation.

To a large extent film affects us constantly. Even films we have not seen. Film is a vehicle for the display of visual and audio artwork. Countless movie quotes and character impressions have become ingrained in pop culture and some of the most iconic music of our time comes from the soundtracks of films. Though films often distort history (docudramas) they also remind us of what has brought us to where we are by documenting events of the past.

Film can reveal stories from the past that were once hidden or forgotten by the generations who lived in those times. Think of the movie Hidden Figures, which presents the success of the first American to orbit the earth through the activities of a group of black women.

There are many hidden truths of history, and much of what to be historically so is inaccurate when viewed through 21st-century perspectives. Historical dramas also allow the audience to experience specific events that could never be accurately communicated in a museum or through a  textbook. By combining theatrical performance, emotive music, and dramatic dialogue, emotive music a movie can present an experience that influences a through many realms.

Film is more than just a form of entertainment. They offer a variety of methods in which they can entertain and influence an audience by tapping into our emotions. They can make us laugh, cry, terrified, or joyous. The best films offer an unparalleled sense of escapism and imprisonment.

One of the most powerful elements of film is that it can offer an environment that engrosses the viewer in an imaginary world where anything can be possible.

Here the mind is temporarily relocated and the viewer is invited to set aside any other thoughts regarding their present lives. In this way, they may completely focus on the events taking place in front of them.

An effective film is a hypnotic film, Literally! This is because we are more flexible about what we consider realistic. We are also open to wit, sarcasm, irony cheesy dialogue, depending on the narrative.  It doesn’t matter how realistic any of it is if it affects you on an emotional level.

In addition, whilst TV series will give you weeks to decide which characters you love and which you hate, One film can greatly expand your ability to make effective choices.  Here you have at most 2-3 hours to decide which characters you love or hate as well as giving you much to consider concerning your own sense of ethics and morality.

A great film can force you to question your motives, your skills and determination, and as well as your own inner demons.

Steven Spielberg has spoken of the true power of film in the following way:

“The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. Now, through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time.”

My newsletter about transformative film, usually published on Saturdays, is about harnessing the storytelling power of film to inspire, inform, and motivate the individual exploring self-reflection, ruthless introspection, and greater awareness. There are a variety of reasons that pioneering educators recommend using film in this way.  For one, people are more than ever, visual learners.  Add to that the increasing amount of visual communication among the general population through YouTube and other visual mediums within the social network including video feeds on Facebook Google plus and other vehicles.

With the ever-expanding use of the internet, video games, and mobile devices, young people are constantly stimulated both in and outside of school. Film can often convey a message better to this demographic than printed or spoken words.

For these visual learners, Films, television and other media platforms can provide an immediate and immersive window to a better understanding of the world and the issues impacting all of us.

Films have long been overlooked as a tool for personal transformation. From childhood, we have been taught that literature originated from all around the world, but we often ignore that what often spurs the imagination is both visual and auditory.  Films can open our minds, inspire us to learn more, provide a bridge to better understanding the major issues of 21st-century concern, and compel us to make a difference.

When properly used, film can be a powerful l tool in developing critical thinking skills and exposure to different perspectives. Our films and various forms of multi-media are the next best thing to living the experience!

Film can speak to us in powerful ways. Why?

  • Few of us need to be coaxed into watching films Today we are more affected by visual media than ever before – it’s an integral part of our lives.
  • Film evokes emotion and provokes stimulating discussion
  • Any of us learns best when we are excited about something
  • Few of us need to be coaxed into watching films.
  • Films can reveal the common humanity that lies inside each one of us.

Nearly all of us come into social environments with a history of watching movies, and if we wish to connect to others beyond the most superficial of levels it is wise to take advantage of this cultural pattern.

Why do we fall in love — not just with romantic partners but with friends and strangers? Why do some people rise to power and others do not? How has our need to share beliefs built human culture?   Film can explore all of these important questions.

The great thing about discussion clubs built around film is that important issues can be explored through differing perspectives. In this way, the viewer learns more about the multiple impacts of various elements upon a specific subject.

Some cinephiles find great value in researching background information on the nature and history of the subject matter of a film. This may lead the viewer to a better understanding of important elements of the film. This may also help them to create thought-provoking discussion questions that can be used in discussions of the film and help viewers further analyze the issues presented in the film.

There are many film genres, styles and categories. How each of these is defined tends to be irregular. For instance “Genre” is sometimes also used to describe a series, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and films focused on particular characters, like Jason Bourne.

A film genre isn’t necessarily its theme or topic, but there will often be overlap.

I have seen all of the films listed in the Saturday posts. I will present them with a short description of the theme and subject. There are so many films that I decided to present most alphabetically with the name of the director, the cast, and the language the film was made in. At the end of each entry, I may add some comments of why I think the film is important and recommend other films in a similar genre or with a similar sensibility.

Among the primary Themes and subjects presented are

·  Feature films [40 min or more]

·  Short films [under 40 min]

·  Animated films

·  Film adaptations

·  Historical films

·  Biographical films

·  Silent films

·  Documentary films

·  Documentary style films

·  B films

·  Experimental films

·  Cinema verite

·  Film noir

·  New wave films

·  Epic films

·  War films

·  Gangster films

·  Detective and mystery films

·   Heistthriller film

·  Spy films

·  Disaster films

·  Caper films

·  Foreign films

·  Comedy films

·  Screwball comedy films

·  Romantic comedy films

·  Western films

·  Adventure films

·  Action and adventure films

·  Fantasy films

·  Science fiction films

·  Horror films

·  Musical films

·  Religious films

·  Police films

·  Puppet films

·  Erotic films

·  Film adaptations

·  Blaxploitation films

·  Thrillers

·  Frankenstein films

·  Star Wars films

·  Zombie films




Author: Lewis is a writer, teacher, mentor, and master results-oriented life coach. He is the author of over twenty books and is the former host of a talk show on NPR Affiliated WIOX91.3 FM. He can be contacted directly at LewisCoaches@gmail.com


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