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“Remember,” Bryan Doerries likes to say in both physical and virtual gatherings, “you are not alone in this room — and you are not alone across time.” With his public health project, Theater of War, he is activating an old alchemy for our young century. Ancient stories, and texts that have stood the test of time, can be portals to honest and dignified grappling with present wounds and longings and callings that we aren’t able to muster in our official places now. It’s an embodiment of the good Greek word catharsis — releasing both insight and emotions that have had no place to go, and creating an energizing relief. And it is now unfolding in the “amphitheater” of Zoom that Sophocles could not have imagined.

The glory that coexists in human life right alongside our weird propensity to choose what is not good for us; the difference between a place of sheer loss and a sacred space for mourning; grace as something muscular amidst the muck and mess of reality. These are some of the places of musing, sweeping perspective, and raw wisdom a conversation with Serene Jones takes us. And after hearing this, you’ll never think in the same way again about Woody Guthrie, or John Calvin, or what a Christian upbringing in Oklahoma might be.

To reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society — this has been Michael Longley’s gift as one of Northern Ireland’s foremost living poets. He is known, in part, as a poet of “the Troubles” — the violent 30-year conflict between Protestants and Catholics, English and Irish. And he is a gentle voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the everyday, never-finished work of social healing.

For this special bonus episode, we gathered everyone on the This Movie Changed Me team to talk about the role movies have played in our lives, and what we’ve learned from working on this podcast. We’re grateful to all the listeners and guests who have joined us across three seasons of this podcast and have shared their own stories of transformation through movies. Thank you, movie friends!

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball tells the story of two talented athletes who weave in and out of each other’s lives as they pursue big dreams. Monica Wright (played by Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (played by Omar Epps) are sometimes friends, enemies, lovers, and competitors. Writer Liara Tamani first saw the movie in 2000 when she was a reluctant student at Harvard Law School. She says Monica’s dedication was a revelation to her. “When [Monica] turned around and looked at Quincy and their child, I almost felt like she was reaching through the screen, asking me, ‘So what you ’bout to do?’”

The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is tenuously appearing — yet many of us feel as exhausted as at any time in the past year. Memory problems; short fuses; fractured productivity; sudden drops into despair. We’re at once excited and unnerved by the prospect of life opening up again. Clinical psychologist Christine Runyan explains the physiological effects of a year of pandemic and social isolation — what’s happened at the level of stress response and nervous system, the literal mind-body connection. And she offers simple strategies to regain our fullest capacities for the world ahead.

Selena tells the true story of the iconic Tejano singer, played by Jennifer Lopez, who broke barriers in music and fashion until her untimely death at age 23. Like Selena the person, writer Shea Serrano is also a Mexican American from Texas. When he first saw the movie in 1997, he was captivated by all the things it got right about his world — the accents, dialogue, and intimate moments. When he watches it now, he finds new lessons on parenthood in the relationship between Selena and her father, played by Edward James Olmos.

Krista interviewed the wise and wonderful writer Ocean Vuong on March 8, 2020 in a joyful, crowded room full of podcasters in Brooklyn. A state of emergency had just been declared in New York around a new virus. But no one guessed that within a handful of days such an event would become unimaginable. Most stunning is how presciently, exquisitely Ocean speaks to the world we have come to inhabit— its heartbreak, its poetry, and its possibilities of both destroying and saving.

“I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night — we can live. And we will.”

Blockers tells the story of three teenage girls determined to lose their virginity on prom night; it’s also about their parents mourning the loss of their daughters, watching them grow up and learning to let them go. The 2018 movie, directed by Kay Cannon, has everything you’d expect in a sex comedy: vulgarity, ridiculous gags, and hilarious jokes. It also complicates notions of sexuality and gender in surprising ways. Emily VanDerWerff, a writer and critic-at-large for Vox, was deeply struck by the movie when she first saw it. She realized it was showing her something she never could have imagined: a life for herself as a woman.

It’s pretty intriguing to follow poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s idea that most of us actually “think in poems” whether we know it or not. Rarely, as she points out, do you hear anyone say they feel worse after writing things down. That, she says, can be a tool to survive in hard times like these, to anchor our days and to get into a conversation and community with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment — “your child self, your older self, your confused self, your self-that-makes-a-lot-of-mistakes.” We also hear her read her beloved poem “Kindness” and tell us the story behind it.

David Cronenberg’s The Fly tells the story of one man’s quest to develop teleportation — and everything that goes wrong along the way. The 1986 sci-fi horror movie stars Jeff Goldblum as Seth, the genius scientist, and Geena Davis as Ronnie, a journalist who falls in love with him. After an experiment goes awry, Seth begins a grisly transformation into a human-fly hybrid. Tony Banout, who works in interfaith dialogue, says he saw the movie as a cautionary tale about the dangers of an unchecked ego — and took lessons from it about grappling with death, decay, and grief.

So many of us have been getting through this year by watching movies at home by ourselves, or with friends on Zoom, inventing new ways to grieve and to hope, to keep ourselves laughing, all through the simple act of watching stories unfold on our screens. Movies have the power to unearth the many layers of our identities; to help us answer the question: Who am I? And that is what we trace, by way of a few beloved movies including The Color Purple, The Fly, and Blockers, in this episode.

Real Women Have Curves tells the story of a young Mexican American woman walking between two worlds, trying to please her immigrant family and be true to herself. Ana, played by America Ferrera, dreams of leaving Los Angeles and going to college. But even as she wants out, she yearns for her family’s blessing and acceptance. This in-betweenness — and Ana’s radical acceptance of her body as it is — was powerful to Virgie Tovar, a writer and body image activist. She says the movie showed her that she could ask for what her body needs, no matter its size.

There is a question rolling around even in the most secular of corners: What do religious people and traditions have to teach as we do the work ahead of repairing, renewing, and remaking our societies, our life together? Krista’s conversation this week with Rabbi Ariel Burger, a student of the late, extraordinary Elie Wiesel, delves into theological and mystical depths that are so much richer and more creative than is often imagined even when that question is raised.

The Way We Were is a quintessential breakup movie. Told across decades, it stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as two wildly different people growing together before eventually growing apart. Writer Sophie Krueger says the 1973 movie has resonated differently over time. As a child, she idolized Streisand and loved her portrayal of an independent woman charting her own course. As an adult, she recognized the stakes of any romantic relationship — and how the differences that excite you initially can become irreconcilable.

PS (Movie friends — We’re hosting a live virtual event, and you’re invited! Join us for ‘Yentl’ Changed Me on Sunday, February 28th at 12 p.m. ET. Free tickets are available now.)

As people, and as a culture, Alain de Botton says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. His New York Times essay, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” is one of their most-read articles in recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we’ve ever created. We offer up the anchoring truths he shares amidst a pandemic that has stretched all of our sanity — and tested the mettle of love in every relationship.

The Color Purple is about the traumas and triumphs of a Black woman named Celie. Set in the Jim Crow South, the story radically centers complicated relationships between Black people, even as whiteness and racism loom in the background. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel was released in 1985. Both tellings have been beloved companions to Danez Smith, a queer writer and performer. Smith says Walker’s story helped them embrace the messiness of life; “to let life exist best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience.”

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