Director aims to inspire with new film ‘The Last Descent’

Isaac Halasima directs Landon Henneman, Chadwick Hopson, Alexis Johnson on set for “The Last Descent.” The film premiered on Friday, Sept. 16 in Arizona and Utah. (Michelle Moore)

Life is a series of highs and lows, and everyone has a story. That’s the message director Isaac Halasima hopes to convey with his new film, “The Last Descent.”

“The Last Descent” features the life of John Jones, an LDS husband, father and avid spelunker.

Jones went spelunking in Nutty Putty Cave, a well-known spelunking spot located on the west side of Utah Lake on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, according to an article written by  Deseret News.

While navigating the cave, Jones became lodged in a small, 18-inch by 10-inch opening, 150 feet below the ground. He was trapped upside down for 28 hours in the hole.

Jones remained stuck in the cave and died that Wednesday evening despite the best efforts of hundreds of rescuers.

The cave was later sealed up with Jones’ body still inside.

“The Last Descent” is Halasima’s first feature-length film, but he is no stranger to the filmmaking world.

Halasima is a Pleasant Grove native and son of BYU former rugby coach Timote Halasima. He grew up hosting a local TV show and editing projects for KSL and is known for directing music videos for Imagine Dragons, an internationally-acclaimed band that began in Provo.

Halasima explained that his passion for filmmaking is rooted in his true passion for dance.

“I’m a dancer first and an ‘everything else’ after,” Halasima said. “Being a dancer designs everything that I am.”

He compared filmmaking to dancing.

“When you treat a story like a song, it gives you the chance, like a choreographer, to put all those pieces in different places,” Halasima said. “Good choreography has hills and valleys. You can’t have eight backflips because it gets boring, but if you put one in at the right moment, then it becomes powerful. And so that’s the way I do it with movies.”

Halasima said his love of art was inspired by his late uncle and his mother. His mother would have him observe paintings and get close enough to the paintings to see the brush strokes.

“You could see the motivation in the artist by how the brush stroked and how it moved,” Halasima said. “The beauty of art is that it helps you feel things.”

One of Halasima’s artistic goals for the film was to use as much natural light as possible. Many of the scenes were filmed without a lighting crew, and all scenes filmed within the caves were lit only with headlamps.

“It feels more real that way. You can’t put the wrong dance move in the wrong song. You can’t do the ‘running man’ in a Celine Deon song,” Halasima said. “It’s a gritty look that fits the grit that is the movie.”

Director Isaac Halasima gives actor Landon Henneman direction for “The Last Descent” film. (Michelle Moore)

He chose the story because it took place at home in Utah and he knew it would resonate with others.

Halasima said he enjoyed the challenge of telling an inspiring story where the ending was already known.

“When you hear the stories of the kind of person (John) was, both in his life and in the cave, it was easy to see that this person deserves a chance to speak,” Halasima said.

His preparation for the film included hours of research, as well as visiting with the Jones family and sharing his idea with others.

Landon Henneman, who plays the role of a rescuer named Aaron, said the film has made an impact on him personally.

Landon Henneman, who plays the role of Aaron in ‘The Last Descent.’ (Michelle Moore)

Henneman also hopes that those who watch the film will have the same experience.

“It’s a hopeful story. The more we focus on the bigger picture, the more we’re able to learn, the more we’re able to progress and find joy in this moment right now and the tragedies that happen,” Henneman said. “I think there’s beauty in pain. Whatever level you’ve experienced one way, you can experience far in the other direction.”

Henneman’s passion for acting lies in his ability to empathize with others, and the story of “The Last Descent” is one he truly connected with.

“It resonated with me right away. It’s a little miracle to have this thing happening,” Henneman said. “I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”

Tyler Philipp, a recent BYU graduate of the public health program, said he remembers hearing about Jones’ story when he was a freshman in college.

“I remember it being a very sad and horrifying story,” Philipp said. “The movie preview portrays the story with a sense of love and perseverance. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.”

Halasima hopes that, above else, the film will give people an opportunity to reflect.

“If you had a chance to sit and know this might be it, could you look at your entire life and be at peace with it?” Halasima said. “Leaving the theater with that thought could help people think ‘You know what, I gotta change a few things.'”

For Halasima, the film’s depth encompasses what he loves about art.

“That’s the base of art, trying to put that feeling in there,” Halasima said. “That’s the brush stroke.”


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