“Ism” and its director Jeff Deverett were given the Best Director award at the 2019 Chandler International Film Festival.
“Ism” is an independent film that has yet to be distributed that is playing at film festivals around the country.
“Ism” tells the story of a group of college students who are tasked with creating a business for a school project.
The rules of this project are simple: it must generate a profit and cannot be a Ponzi scheme, or drug and sex related.
From these rules the students decide to from a new religion and use the power of the internet to commercialize people’s spirituality.
After some slight push-back from the university professor the kids get off to work on their business plan that has low cost of good, low overhead, is long-term, and provides for a need.
The film discusses the many ways that people can associate themselves with religion through each of its main characters.
Each character’s religious history is established through flashbacks that give the audience peeks into each of their lives.
Each character is portrayed competently by new coming actors, some with more provenance than others.
Of the four main characters and all their combating personalities only two provide a sense of change.
The first is Daniel, played by Cameron Defaria, who is a practicing Mormon who initially has huge problems with the groups project.
As the semester progress audiences see Daniel come into conflict with his church community and members from within it.
Members of Daniel’s church, specifically his girlfriend, are pulled out of their religion and into the world created by their app.
As the landscape of Daniel’s life changes surrounding the app then Daniel is forced to reexamine the place religion has in his own life.
The other satisfying character arc is from Aprana Brielle’s character, Farah, who is an Iranian Muslim whose family abandoned religion when they came to the U.S.
As her character’s father says, “The only religion allowed in this house is the NFL.”
Over the course of the film Farah is placed in a position where a careful reexamination of her religious ideology is necessary.
Following this change she finds meaning in religion and some beauty in its teachings regardless of if she believes.
The remaining characters in the core group; Alix Gitter’s Rebecca and Kevin Mimms’ Martin are given less interesting arcs but still provide context of their own to the situation.
The editing, pacing, tonality and sound editing are all spot n and nearly flawless. The attention paid to craft, especially cinematography, made it a standout amongst smaller entries in the festival.
The look of “Ism” is spot on with its squeaky-clean well and lit aesthetic lending to its religious themes and university aesthetic.
Most of the film was shot on location at a real university campus which helped add to the aesthetic.
According to the films cinematographer, Scott Leslie, “We aren’t adding any extra moodiness to it. So it’s very clean, straight forward, analytic, approach to the cinematography.”
The film does suffer from two key structural errors which affect the pacing and flow of the film.
The first of these issues is the lack of a central antagonist for much of the film. The entire first half of the film, if not more, has no antagonist and as such has very little external conflict.
What conflict that does exist in the beginning is relegated to pontificating and arguing between the group members.
Once the antagonistic school officials do rear their ugly head the film begins to find its voice.
The second chip in the structural integrity of the film is the lack of a solid emotional b-story.
Instead of a b-story we get what amounts to brisk conversations and emerging friendships between classmates.
However, of these friendships none seem pivotal or instrumental enough for the film to lay its hat on.
Instead the film chooses to lean on its conflicts with the decay of a relationship rather than the creation of one.
As the film moves on Daniel and his girlfriend grow further and further apart until separation.
This conflict is less rewarding than a traditional b-story but does manage to lift the middle of the film up a notch.
One of the most surprising aspects of the film are its many authentic and heartfelt jokes which land with an almost dry, learned humor.
“Ism” attempts to answer the age-old question of divinity by not answering it all and instead purposing. Does it matter?
“Ism” directly addresses the claims of over 4,000 world religions by suggesting that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, so long as that religion helps make you a better person.
As the director Jeff Deverett said, “Religion is a choice…If you’re comfortable with it works and if you’re not then you don’t have to be scared about it.”
Deverett was led to this subject by a common debate held between him and his identical twin brother.
Deverett said, “I’ve chosen to live a very secular life, really without religion…and my brother lives a very devout religious life. So for 20 years we’ve been arguing back and forth about whether religion enhances or detracts from our lives…and that was the inspiration for making this movie.”
Two different cuts of the film exist with varying levels of obscene language covered in the script. Depending on which version of the film you see different characters may leave different impressions.
For instance, the character of Farah seems confrontational in the explicit cut of the film. However, in the television cut Farah may seem almost unnecessarily hostile.
Limiting Farah’s ample uses of the “F-word” may also dull that character’s critique and input about the student’s situation.
“Ism” is a unique film that will prove engaging for movie-goers interested in theology and religion in the modern age.
More orthodox or traditional movie-goers may find the film more challenging due to its core themes.
Either way, “Ism” is a notable film for the quasi-religious philosopher, evangelizing atheist, or practicing member of any orthodox religion.
Look for “Ism” online or on television in your area.
Also check for “Ism” where films are digitally rented.