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Lenses: Entertainment as a Second Language*

LENSES: ESL* Class for Community Learners

ACTS Church Lakeline is pleased to announce the return of Lenses, the popular Informal Classes for the Community starting Monday, September 10, 6:30 PM at The Moviehouse & Eatery. Offered at $65, the class includes a simple course curriculum on media literacy written with the average viewer in mind. Participants will   (Note that the series will pause on October 8 and November 19 for fall and Thanksgiving breaks respectively.)

Poster of information found on this page.

Participants will explore and practice ten valuable lenses that can make them fluent in their media consumption—better at making sense of the messages and meanings behind their favorite movies. Improve your media literacy—become fluent in reading popular film.

The Lenses series is parallel to the Cinema and Religion series offered at The Moviehouse each spring. Focusing on film, the two classes provide examinations of this compelling media form in the context of an actual movie theater with an audience—the most pure and powerful viewing environment.

Instructions for registration is found here. For more information, visit the FAQ page.

The course registration does not guarantee a seat at the screening. Participants must reserve their seat each week by using this form. A limited number of guest seats are available each week, but they must pay a single-night registration. Reserve a seat for each guest using this form before paying the fee.

Our license agreement prevents us from using the title of the films in our publicity. The list of actual film titles with screening dates will be included in the course material provided for those who register. In the meantime, read the kind of key question used for each screening and the kind of film that will lend itself to the examination.


September 10. From the lens of Accuracy, ask: “Is it true?”
The film this night is about a woman’s fight to get justice for her daughter, based on a true story. The participant will look closely at the facts surrounding the actual event and ask if any discrepancies take away from a full appreciation for the film. Also ask, what films require consideration through the lens of accuracy. Furthermore, consider what films should be exempt from the standard of accuracy.

September 17. From the Formal lens (aesthetics), ask: “Is it pretty?”
The film this night should be judged according to how beautifully the movie is made. For example, one can look at the cinematography, costumes, set design, music score, editing, acting, and direction and ask if these elements demonstrate mastery in film production. As such, one is less worried about the impact of the story. The film for this night uses the plot of one of Shakespeare’s plays. As such, one can also ask if the film’s script and direction equal or exceed a stage version.

September 24. From the lens of Narrative, ask: “What is the story all about?” The film on this night is a retelling of Homer’s Oddessy. According to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a hero is sent on a journey to recover a boon or treasure. Along the way, s/he meets antagonists that try to stop the quest. Often, the hero finds help from unexpected sources—thus enabled to return a boon to the community. The participant should see how closely this film follows the monomyth (hero’s journey), and look for variations in the story. For any film, the viewer must seek coherence in the hero’s journey before any deep identification can take place.

October 1. From a Socio-Cultural lens, ask: “Why do they treat each other this way?” First one must self-examine the social or cultural context that shapes one’s identity. Certainly, how you view a film is filtered by those experiences. Next, examine the film’s characters with the same understanding of how different cultural backgrounds and social orders motivate or explain the interactions characters have with each other. In this film, we have a mix of nationalities and ages along with another sort of culture. Watch for cultural and societal norms that satisfactorily explain the motivations of characters. Look beyond a simple mismatch of personalities. Ultimately, see how easily you identify with characters who come from a different context. Ask if the filmmaker’s norms and traditions are the same as yours.

October 15 (no screening on the 8th). From the lens of Psychology, ask: “What is the story really about?” It is in the unconscious where the influence of film’s story is often most potent. Can the film’s impact on you be explained by examing the experience through a Freudian understanding of the battle between the childish ID and the moral Superego—mediated by the realistic Ego? This film is about how painful events that are suppressed or repressed can affect conscious behavior. Note that even the filmmakers may be expressing ideas that even they may not be aware.

October 22. From the lens of Semiotics (symbolism) ask: “What metaphors can be found?” A good filmmaker will fill the experience with clues to deeper meanings, some of them triggered by psychological sensors. Few actions or objects in a film are unintentional—they are inserted to remind the viewer of something important. The participant will learn to spot what has things have particular relevancy and which do not. Such an understanding of these clues will help one make sense of a character’s actions and artifacts and what role they play in driving the story. This film is filled with such hints—one such involves the appearance of a white shirt that never becomes muddy.

October 29. From the lens of Value, ask: “What is important to them?” For this lens, the participant should not judge the character, but merely ask what value system is represented in the behaviors and artifacts prevalent in the film. Look for the conflict of values—the Socio-cultural lens may be helpful in differentiating one system from another. In this film, a character falls temptation to the appeal of money, and in the process, he devalues the ultimate wellbeing of his family. Another main character discovers what he has valued all along is no longer enough. Another character is relentless in pursuing what he values. Ask if the values espoused by the protagonist-hero reflects those of the filmmaker.

November 5. From a Rhetorical lens, ask: “Does it persuade?” Indeed, there is persuasion hidden in many films. The participant will learn to ask, what idea is being advanced? What action is called for? Ultimately, ask if the filmmaker was effective in causing one to change perspectives on an issue. If so, what means of persuasion were most powerful (logos, ethos, or pathos) in reshaping your perception? Consider what formal elements used by the filmmaker best supports their rhetoric. This film will depict a change sweeping across an entire city, starting with a single character. Did you feel the same?

November 12. From the lens of Ideology, ask “What worldview does this film promote?” Of course, a worldview is a belief system made evident by closely held values, which are manifest in behaviors and artifacts. Combine the Rhetorical, Semiotic, and Value lenses in asking what foundational belief is represented in the film. Once identified, ask if the film’s stance is different from your worldview, or if it was successful in persuading you to change or affirm your beliefs. This film sends a subtle message one may miss due to the spectacular distractions of the performances.

November 25 (no screening on November 19). From the lens of Genre, ask: “Is this true to form?” Typically, we might start with such a lens, as it is perhaps the most common lens used today in light of the popularity of the comic book genre. We compare films to other similar films in asking if they are representative of the best in that genre. Of course, genres only exist because views and critics alike need categories to help them make and defend their judgments. In this film, we will see if it can be considered to be among the best Christmas movies ever made. If so, what elements (using a Formal lens perhaps) makes it so?

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On the Move to Fight Cancer

New Non-profit Hosting Benefit to Help Get Patients to Treatment Centers.

By Philip J. Hohle, PhD

Cancer is a tough enemy to fight. Recent statistics from the American Cancer Society show that in the United States, an estimated 125,000 cancer patients needed help with transportation to their treatment appointments in 2017. In Texas alone, the Society provided 2,223 cancer patients with rides, but 16,247 additional requests went unmet.

According to the Patient Advocate Foundation in 2015, 15 percent of all cancer patients reported problems accessing care due to transportation conflicts, and the greater the distance they have to travel, the more likely they will miss or delayed treatment. It is no wonder that the cancer survivor rate is remarkably lower in underserved areas.

Driving Hope LogoDriving Hope of Texas is a new startup that aims to put a dent in those statistics. The non-profit organization is the vision of a veteran professional truck driver Michael Hohle of Moody. “Several years ago, my uncle came down with cancer. I saw the trouble my aunt had in getting him to his treatments. They were from your typical small Texas town, and driving in the big city was quite intimating for her. Because of the situation, going to treatment was as hard on my aunt as it was for my uncle—who never really trusted her driving. I thought, ‘they needed me to do the driving.’” Hohle added, “Ever since then, I’ve been wrestling with how to help people who have to go through the stress of getting to their treatments. After all, just knowing you have cancer is stressful enough.”

Continue reading On the Move to Fight Cancer

Short Tragedies

A Review of Independent Shorts (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

As a whole, those who selected the narrative short films for the 2018 SXSW festival are apparently obsessed with themes of gender identity. I have selected a number of these shorts to analyze for the deeper questions they raise—along with the obvious conflicts and concerns more conventionally found in the story. It is often the less noticeable films that make for the richest philosophical discussion.

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Where’s Coach?

Review of Write When You Get Work (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Viewers might consider this film as another in the genre of anti-hero comedy. When it is difficult to place the actions in some framework of reality, the plot becomes absurd, and absurdity can only be placed in the comic genre. Often, the absurdity comes from a juxtaposition of ideas that seem incompatible—in this case, the good-hearted criminal.

Continue reading Where’s Coach?

The Return of Religion

Review of Jinn (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

It is refreshing to see well-developed African-American characters in a narrative, and this story is one of the best in avoiding stereotypes. Not surprisingly, Jinn is written and produced by a group of emerging Black filmmakers in the U.S. What adds to the quality of this film is that the narrative provides a refreshing take on the troubled encounters the whole world seems to have with religion these days.

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Alien Incarnation

Review of First Light (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Cast members from film sitting on a porch.Another in the science fiction genre where an alien race brings a blessing to a troubled earth, First Light has some interesting company. The film Arrival is one good example. In many of these tales, only certain characters have the sensitivity to hear or understand the message brought by these alien angels of mercy.

First Light is set in a town situated somewhere out West. Two teenagers are brought together after a strange set of events one night at a party outside of town. Few people in the town seem to be aware of, much less concerned about, the patterns of strange lights that appeared in the sky,
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Non-typical Bucks

A review of Legacy of the White Tail Deer Hunter (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Buck (Josh Brolin) is a legendary hunter staring in his own video series. His loyal cameraman Don (Danny McBride) accompanies Buck on a special hunting trip—the first for his son Jaden (Montana Jordan). The hunter’s situation in life is reflected in an old buck deer they site early on the trip—the animal has a huge rack and a sad, grey-looking face. Buck categorizes him as a non-typical specimen, and certainly, this describes Buck well. This film stays within the pattern of films at SXSW 2018 dealing with broken families and the difficult rites of passages for the kids in such a situation.

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Where the Wind Bloweth

A Review of Galveston (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Photo of two people on beachSet against the backdrop of a city known for its hurricanes, Galveston is the place of refuge for an unlikely couple on the run from the mob. Working as a hitman, Roy is set up by his corrupt boss in New Orleans. In escaping the sting, he also rescues a prostitute by the name of Rocky. Reluctantly bringing her along, Roy chooses Galveston as their destination—a place where they can lay low. Along the escape route, they rescue her little sister Tiffany from the girl’s abusive step-dad.

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Ripped Pages

Review of Damsel (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

It is quite fascinating to watch the trajectory of the Zellner Brothers, David and Nathan, as they have continued to fine-tune their unique style in filmmaking. One may wonder if they got into directing and producing because they wanted to act, or they act because it makes producing and directing that much more efficient. Like the Coen brothers, it is unclear whose creativity is the driving force or if they share all the creative decisions that go into a film. In any case, the sibling team has risen to be among the kings of independent cinema, and it is appropriate to mention them in the same breath as the Duplass brothers (in my eyes, a huge compliment).

Continue reading Ripped Pages