As we busily make our lists and check them twice, it’s helpful to pause and remember the power of giving during the holiday season. Many people, in addition to picking out the perfect gifts for their friends and family, set a little money aside for the causes and organizations that matter to them most. In these turbulent times, there are more than a few worthy candidates for our generosity. For some help finding the right cause to support, reflect on these films that ignited your imagination and touched your heart, movies that also addressed issues from global warming to historical preservation.
This holiday season, as you remember the year that was, consider also giving to the future by letting these movies direct your spirit of giving.
Dark Waters | Fighting forever chemicals
Todd Haynes’ thriller Dark Waters recounts the real-life story of Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate attorney who risked everything to uncover a corporate cover up that was putting the health of hundreds, if not thousands, of local citizens at risk. Tipped off by a West Virginia farmer (played by Bill Camp) whose livestock was mysteriously dying, Bilott goes through mountains of evidence to discover a toxic link to one of DuPont’s most famous products. CNN notes, “Beyond the fundamental horror of corporate greed trumping public-health concerns, the movie…does find hope in the idea that one ordinary guy can make a difference." You too can make a difference. Get information about how to fight forever chemicals at the Participant Media Take Action site.
Harriet | African American history
Kasi Lemmons’ period piece Harriet makes history itself by bringing to the big screen for the first time the life and legend of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman (in a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Cynthia Erivo). Having escaped slavery herself, Harriet continually risked her life by returning to the South to save others as one of the most audacious conductors of the Underground Railroad. Her remarkable story has, as The New York Times points out, “all the right elements: danger, surprise and the kind of against-all-odds heroism that brings people to the movies.” And yet Harriet, like so many other inspiring stories of African Americans, could have gone untold. To ensure that more stories like that of Harriet Tubman are remembered, consider giving to any of the many organizations that preserve African American history, like the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Mustang | Wild horses
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s debut feature The Mustang dramatizes an actual program that brings together two uncontrollable forces—prison inmates and wild horses. In the film, an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (Matthias Schoenaerts) is selected for the Wild Horse Inmate Program, an event that will utterly change his view of himself. As horse and man meet, they create a personal language to express the emotions neither could articulate alone. For RogerEbert.com, “The Mustang is a testament to the worthy stories yet to be told about the healing, unbreakable bonds between tormented people and the misunderstood animals that come to their rescue.” To help preserve the wild horses that make up the program, the organization Return to Freedom—which was involved in the production of the film—helps find a sanctuary for the real mustangs of the American West. Find out more about Return to Freedom’s remarkable work and how to help.
The Dead Don’t Die | Global warming
In The Dead Don’t Die, Jim Jarmusch’s hilarious send up of classic zombie films, the good folks of Centerville find the world coming to an end much sooner than anyone expected. After global warming sends nature into a tailspin, an epidemic of strange, violent events, culminating in the dead coming back to life, overwhelms the town’s police department (made up of Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny). While there are currently no known organizations dealing with the approaching zombie apocalypse, a range of groups are actively working on global warming. If you want to keep the dead in their graves, you might want to donate generously this season to those living people working to stop climate change.
Downton Abbey | Landmark preservation
Michael Engler’s film Downton Abbey picks up the saga of the Crowley family and their historic home (played by the real-life Highclere Castle) where the beloved television series left off. Early on, Julian Fellowes, who created the series and wrote the film’s screenplay, imagined Highclere as his fictional Downton Abbey. “We knew that the house was going to be our main character and had to persuade an audience—who may not necessarily have been familiar with that way of life—that it could command its residents to make sacrifices to keep it going,” explains Fellowes. “We needed an incredible building.” While Highclere no longer maintains anything like the staff pictured in the film, the owners preserve the building’s heritage. Visitors can take a tour of the castle and contribute to its upkeep. You don't, however, need to cross the Atlantic to support historical landmarks. You can find organizations in your neighborhood preserving your local architectural history.