Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga joined about three dozen students and faculty members for a screening of his unreleased film, Words with Gods, at the Bright Family Screening Room on March 21.
The screening was part of AMIGOS’ Latino Summit 2016, which also included the second annual Latino Summit Luncheon and a Master Class in Screenplay Writing with Arriaga earlier in the day.
Words with Gods was broken into nine parts, all of which were directed by diverse people covering various religions across the world. The actors for each part are locals from the areas in which they were shooting. The parts were broken up by animation that Arriaga said took a year and a half to create by hand.
Viewers saw stories about Aboriginal spirituality in Australia, the coexistence of Hindus and Muslims in India, Buddhism in Japan, and atheism in Mexico, to name a few. The various parts of the film explore the intersection of class, gender, and generational gaps in different religions. The film explores themes of birth, mourning, mortality, questioning faith, love, and relationships, and the way religion helps people in different parts of the world cope.
“I think we are full of fear, and religion in a certain way allows you to alleviate a little bit of that fear,” Arriaga said in the discussion that followed the screening. “We fear what’s going to happen when we die, we fear that someone we love will die, we fear that we are hopeless in the world. So religion fills up emptiness.”
Arriaga himself is an atheist, but said the way the themes of the film transcend each religion gave him a greater respect for the religions of the world.
“I have been an atheist since the age of 7 or 8,” he said. “What I have learned is to be more and more respectful of all these people’s point of view and understand that we can have things in common.”
João Vieira ’19 attended the Master Class earlier in the day, as well as the screening and discussion that evening. He noted the diversity of the audiences at the events throughout the day, and the depth of the conversations as a result.
“[Arriaga] is a great guy and there’s a lack of representation of Latin American directors,” he said. “People were [at the summit] from different places, therefore they give different opinions, especially people from AMIGOS, people from Latin America. But [people came from] different countries and different perspectives, and also there were Americans.”
Vieira also said hearing Arriaga share his experience about making this film helped spread a hopeful message for aspiring filmmakers who don’t see themselves in mainstream cinemas in the United States.
“They don’t see themselves in Hollywood or New York sometimes,” he said. “By showing this, we’re showing those people there are a lot of other prospects in other countries, in other places, even in Boston.”
Arriaga told a student at the Q&A that he believes the key to peacefully living in a world full of diverse religions is to begin a conversation about the similarities that exist among them, rather than focusing on their differences.
“I think this is my very small contribution to that dialogue,” he said. He said he hopes “people begin to understand that there are different gods, and those gods have the purpose of healing and of bringing people together.” He continued, “It’s not our job to give answers as artists, but it’s our job to ask questions.”