This summer was the first time local filmmaker Johnny St. Ours picked up the Bible. He set out to write and produce a film for this year’s Virginia Film Festival, “Finding God at the Movies.” Although he missed the submission deadline for a screening at the actual festival, his film, which shows at Live Arts on October 27, certainly fits nicely within the week’s focus on spirituality in cinema.
The idea for the film actually originated with a single image that St. Ours had been kicking around in head long before his foray into the Good Book: A bewildered man in a suit, holding a box of belongings cleared out from his desk, stares out the window of a skyscraper. It’s a stark scene of human loss and confusion, but what happens to the man before and after his sudden joblessness didn’t come to St. Ours until he read the third chapter of Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve being cast out from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge. St. Ours says he was “blown away” by the actual text of the story, as opposed to the “nicer retailings” of this original-sin saga.
In this modern, 16-minute take on the tale of the fall of man, a banker is fired from his job when he stops towing the corporate line and alerts his clients to pitfalls in their contracts. He’s not only cast out by his employer for his newfound conscience, but also castigated by a wife (played with eerie conviction by Live Arts Marketing Director Ronda Hewitt) who has as much faith in corporate complacency (and its inherent links to familial duty) as she does in doctrinal readings of scripture. “If you do something that’s wrong, but it’s all part of God’s plan,” the wife explains, “then it’s O.K.”
In this case, the metaphor for “God’s plan” seems to be blind adherence to the status quo. And whether rejecting that means that our beleaguered corporate soldier’s final elevator ride is a descent into the hell of divorce and familial estrangement, or a path to a new kind of heaven, filled with the light of free will, is up for debate among the characters and, ultimately, the audience. In fact, the meaning of the film remains unresolved in St. Ours’ own mind. “I’m still trying to learn what the movie is really about,” he admits. And he says he’ll continue to tinker with and edit the film up until the moment he screens it.
But what St. Ours does acknowledge is that the film’s metaphoric scrutiny of religious dogma is an issue he personally feels strongly about. “It just blows me away that people are still using these old texts to justify bloody wars and criminal pursuits of money from unsuspecting followers.” He hopes that others get something out of his re-evaluation of this religious fact or fable (depending on your persuasion), but he says he has no idea of the “offensive meter” of the film.
Offensive or not, the DISSENT offers a chance for spiritual reflection and revelation, and that’s the theme throughout town during this film festival week.
the DISSENT plays at Live Arts’ DownStage theater on October 27 at 9pm, 10pm and 11pm. Admission is $3. A Q&A session follows each screening.