Who’s Next: James Hawthorn

The Flicks4Change co-founder brings socially conscious films to Washington.

One film changed the course of James Hawthorn’s life forever. The 25-year-old was unhappy, stuck in a safe corporate job in Denver, doing business-to-business sales for a major satellite TV company and feeling generally unfulfilled. He went home one night and turned on the movie “The Bucket List.” Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson’s characters were dying from cancer and created a list of things they wanted to do before they died.

“I thought about what my list would be,” Hawthorn remembers. “Some might even call that a silly movie but it was the right movie with the right message at a time when I really needed to receive that message. It inspired me to grow some guts.”

So, the District native packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles to follow his bliss—he embarked on a career as an actor, personal trainer and documentary filmmaker. Now 33 and thriving, he took another leap and added film festival creator to his repertoire two years ago, creating Flicks4Change with fellow actor Andrew Steele.

“We’re the festival that turns film into philanthropy,” Hawthorn says, adding that his mission is to connect change makers with people who want to make a difference and also inspire grassroots activism. One thing he has noticed about nonprofit film festivals with socially conscious topics is “a gap between art and awareness and real change in the world.”

Dlicks4Change co-founders James Hawthorn and Andrew Steele

What really makes the festival stand out, Hawthorn says, is its collaboration with nonprofit groups, whose representatives set up exhibits at the festivals that illuminate the issues covered in each evening’s films. In addition to panel discussions with filmmakers after the screenings, the heads of organizations speak about the films as they relate to the issues they represent and what the audience can do to make a difference.

“It’s like a town hall style discussion,” Hawthorn explains. “We really want our audience to feel like they’re a part of the process rather than coming to passively view art.” When audience members look at their voting ballots to select their favorite film, on the flip side will be “facts for change” collected from each nonprofit partner, and prizes to encourage engagement.

And what sort of social issues can a local audience expect to see at Flicks4Change this year? “Gun violence, disability, addiction, sex trafficking, third world issues such as the Syria refugee issue,” Hawthorn lists. “Assisted suicide, abortion, environmentalism.” One, “Love the Sinner,” deals with Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting and is a personal transformation story. Another, “RV,” puts viewers into the life of a woman who lives in an area with no abortion clinics, who must go underground to complete the procedure.

Hawthorn is impressed by the talent it takes to make short films, which make up the bulk of Flicks4Change’s screenings. “When you convey an impactful message, when you can provide information, tell a story and really move people in under ten minutes that is a really special skill and incredibly hard to do. When people come to the D.C. events and see these films, they’re going to be blown away by the skill set that is present in every one we’re going to show.”

Join Flicks4Change in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 for two distinct programs of short films, interactive nonprofit partner exhibits, engaging discussion and live music by Leonard, Coleman and Blunt. Both limited VIP and general admission tickets are available and range from $30-$180. Click here for tickets. 

This story appeared in the November 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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