In a movie landscape full of exceptional special effects and some thin plots, Derek Dodd searches for meaning by showing socially relevant movies, followed by question and answer sessions with experts on topics that affect families.
Dodd, managing partner for Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in the East Valley, created a community movie series – partly because of a suggestion from his wife, Crystal – that tackles some heavy social problems.
But Dodd’s Alamo theaters in Chandler and Tempe don’t just show the movies. He gathers a panel of experts who answer questions about the movie and make suggestions on how to solve the problems they spotlight.
Most recently, Dodd’s Chandler and Tempe theaters showed “A Beautiful Boy,’’ a film featuring a family’s struggles with a son addicted to methamphetamine.
The heart-wrenching movie is based upon a true story and features actor Steve Carrell’s torturous frustration as he attempts to save his son from self-destruction. In the end, Carrell’s son, played by Timothee Chalamet, barely survives.
Other movies shown as part of the series, which continues in February, have included “Detroit,” about the race riots of 1967; “8th Grade,” about the pressures of growing up in the digital world; “Wonder,” about a boy born with rare facial deformities; and “Selma,” about the epic 1965 civil rights march during which marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers.
Dodd’s next show, on Feb. 21 in Tempe, is on an equally provocative historical topic – controversial civil rights leader Malcolm X.
Light fare it’s not – and that’s on purpose, although Dodd says he has only a humanitarian agenda, not a political one.
“We don’t make the movie, we are just the exhibitors,” he said. “This is for the betterment of all of the community.”
“Movies are mainly entertainment to escape reality,’’ Dodd said, and those types of superhero movies tend to be the big box office draws and money-makers.
Although most of Alamo’s movies are shown for their entertainment value, the community movie-and-discussion series draws a different audience.
“We want to do movies that start real conversations,’’ Dodd said. “You are doing it because it’s the right thing to do.’’
He said “A Beautiful Boy” struck home with him because he is a father of two and he realizes that teen suicide is a major problem in the East Valley.
While the movie does not feature a suicide, education consultant Katey McPherson – who put together the discussion panel that followed the showing – said drug addiction and teen suicide are intertwined, with many teens who complete suicide also using drugs.
A blurry line also can make it difficult sometimes to differentiate between a fatal overdose and a suicide, she said.
“I’ve got two young children. I want to do everything I can to circumvent that,’’ Dodd, a Chandler resident, said. “When we find a movie that hits on a topic that can help our community, we want to do something like this.
“It’s movies that put a magnification on things that might not be right.’’
McPherson, a mother of four and a former longtime teacher and assistant principal, has been working to prevent teen suicide.
Dodd said she arranged the panel of experts for “A Beautiful Boy” and “8th Grade.”
McPherson often lectures on the unique pressures created by social media and other factors that make growing up today a different experience than for past generations.
The panelists who fielded questions from a group of about 125 people, mostly concerned parents, after the “Beautiful Boy” showing in Chandler included Angie Geren of Addiction Haven, a community recovery organization based in Chandler; Travis Webb, a Gilbert therapist; Ed Morales, a Gilbert police officer; and Bridgett Troxell, 19, a recovering addict from Chandler.
“I look at core values,’’ Morales, a former school resource officer, said. “When you have them do some self-evaluation, that’s when you have the best results.’’
Morales urged parents to strongly discourage vaping, saying it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is vaping a nicotine aerosol or THC wax, which can have a very high concentration of THC, the drug in marijuana that gets users high.
“It doesn’t look like it did five, 10, 15 years ago. We are playing catch up,’’ Morales said.
Webb suggested that parents develop deep, “authentic relationships’’ with their children, rather than settling for the usual platitudes.
Troxell put her struggle with drugs under the spotlight with a simple motivation about a complicated topic: She just wants to help others. She said she has been through rehabilitation three times but has a much better life now.
“If they end up in that situation, I want them to know, you can get out,’’ Troxell said.
Troxell explained how her downhill journey with drugs started when she began smoking marijuana as a freshman in high school.
“It’s a walk down the street, it’s people you know. It only takes two or three times to try it. That’s where the cycle begins,’’ she said, when a woman asked her about the difficulty of obtaining drugs.
Her addiction worsened in her sophomore year, when she said she started using opioids, Percocet and Xanax.
“The people you are hanging out with, who want you to do those things, are not your real friends,’’ Troxell said.
Eventually, she said she dropped out of school and lived a life without purpose, ending up in rehab.
She said she realized at some point that she was 16 credits shy of graduating from high school. She enrolled in a different high school and eventually graduated.
“There was a day I woke up and I decided that I did not want to live this life anymore,’’ Troxell said. “Watching this movie is like watching my parents’ life.’’
Geren urged parents to set a good example for their children by not self-medicating with drugs, illegal or legal, such as having some vodka when they get home from a stressful day at work.
“There’s nothing that 100 percent can prevent addiction from happening,’’ she said. “Having that (emotional) connection is the best defense.’’