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Sonscreen Film Festival Showcases and Celebrates Young Christian Filmmakers

For 18 years the festival has encouraged professional and student filmmakers, and church leaders, to dialogue and learn from each other.

Andrew Hansen accepts the award for Best Comedy Short with his film "Who Framed Lyndon Johnson?"

Andrew Hansen accepts the award for Best Comedy Short with his film "Who Framed Lyndon Johnson?" Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

The North American Division (NAD) welcomed 225 student and professional filmmakers and guests to the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival. The three-day festival, run by the NAD, screened 47 official selections from student filmmakers. The event culminated with an awards ceremony and closing reception, with 11 student films garnering awards.

“Sonscreen has continued to grow steadily each year both in film submission and attendance,” said says Julio Muñoz, director of the Sonscreen Film Festival and associate director of the NAD Office of Communication. “A record 61 films were submitted to this year’s festival. And as we are limited in the number of films we can program, we have seen the quality of the ‘official selections’ continue to improve.”

“This was my first time at Sonscreen and I really enjoyed it,” said sophomore film and biology major Averie Alexander, Southern Adventist University. “I like seeing the variety of films that played, genre and level—having the high school films, the professional films, you saw a wide range of expertise, which was really interesting because it shows the growth, the potential.”

Alexander added, “A lot of film festivals can make a person feel that filmmaking is unattainable but having the mix of people (students and pros) makes you feel like you’re on par, or a few steps ahead or behind, and we can all learn from each other.”

A panel of church leaders and film professors discuss the role of film in addressing social issues that challenge society and the church during the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

A panel of church leaders and film professors discuss the role of film in addressing social issues that challenge society and the church during the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Four professional films were also screened at this year’s festival, with Q&A sessions conducted after film block screenings and guest presentations. Special guests to the festival included Aaron Adams, animator; Chris and Tatia Cibelli, film editors; Joshua Weigel, director/co-writer of "The Butterfly Circus;” David George, producer of "Life After Film School;” Sven Fockner, vice president of content, Stimme der Hoffnung (European Media Center of the Seventh-day Adventist Church); and Dan Jackson, NAD president.

In addition to the film screenings and Q&A sessions, two panel discussions gave filmmakers, professors, and church leaders the opportunity to both share insights about life after film and address the role film plays in some of the social issues facing society and the church

“The weekend flew by, and the trip was definitely profitable,” said Rajeev Sigamoney, film program coordinator, Department of Visual Arts at Pacific Union College (PUC). “Attending Sonscreen reminds me how special a program we have! As various as all our backgrounds are, we all seem to be cut from the same cloth. Individuals striving to do something significant within the realm of our faith and our communities.”

“The filmmakers at this year’s festival showcased many superb, relevant films that dealt with serious themes in an honest manner,” said Muñoz. “We want Sonscreen to be an inclusive community where the young filmmakers are affirmed as artists and feel safe to use their craft to truthfully reflect on the world they live in.”

For 18 years, Sonscreen has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. The 47 official selections were divided into six categories: animated short, art/experimental short (new category), dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, and high school short.

The festival concluded with the presentation of 11 Sonny Awards: Best Animated Short, Best Cinematography, Best Documentary Short, Best High School Short, Best Comedy Short, Best Dramatic Short, Best Original Screenplay, Jury Selection, Audience Choice, and Best in Festival. Honorable Mention awards were also given for Art/Experimental, Comedy, Dramatic, Documentary, and Animated short films.

At the start of the festival, the Sonscreen Vision Award was presented to Debra Brill. Brill, as Jackson said during the presentation, “has been faithful to the call to help get the movement off the ground and sustain it.”

Jackson added, “In times when the finances were short, Debra kept talking. In times when there were criticisms, she kept defending it. Debra has been a champion for this cause.”

Sonscreen 2018 HS honorable mention

Arik Amodeo, from the Plantation church accepts Honorable Mention, High School Short, for "Life of Earl." Photo by Pieter Damsteegt 

Schools and student groups represented at the festival included Andrews University (Michigan); Hawaiian Mission Academy (Hawaii); La Sierra Academy, La Sierra University, Loma Linda Academy, Loma Linda University, and Pacific Union College (California); Plantation Seventh-day Adventist Church (Florida); Rio Lindo Academy (California); Spencerville Adventist Academy (Maryland); Southern Adventist University (Tennessee); Southwestern Adventist University (Texas); and Walla Walla University (Washington).

“I was nervous about the festival screening, but excited too because [the audience] got to see some of the talent God’s given me,” said Ethan Madding, a senior at Spencerville Adventist Academy. “Film is a way to express what you believe, whether that be political views, or spiritual views. It is also a way to tell a story that other people might not have heard. If you’re interested in telling that story, you can do that through film.”

“I converted into Seventh-day Adventism later in my life, and I was always worried about it because I felt like the church didn’t accept the arts and people who are not necessarily in the traditional Christian box,” said Alexander. “I felt like we artists and filmmakers were not included. But to hear elder [Dan Jackson] speak about how they do value us and they want to include us, it touches me. It makes me feel as if my community cares about me.

“That’s amazing, and that’s beautiful.”

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of Communication for the North American Division.

The 2018 Sonscreen Official Selections and Award Winners

Best in Festival | “Sisterly,” Nina Vallado, Andrews University

Audience Choice Award | “Sisterly,” Nina Vallado

Jury Selection | “Genesis,” Julian Ybarra, Pacific Union College

Best Screenplay | “The Chocolate Shop,” Vester Banner III, La Sierra University

Best Cinematography | "125 Pounds," Joshua Martin, Andrews University

2018 Sonscreen Vision Award

Debra Brill, NAD vice president

Dramatic Short

• She Isn’t Here | Michelle Noland (Best Dramatic Short)

The Chocolate Shop | Vester Banner (Honorable Mention, Documentary Short)

Questions I Imagine My Black Daughter Will Ask Me | Sierra Lewis

Shortstop | Taylor Smith

Chiaroscuro | Justin McLaughlin

You Can’t Save Everyone| Anthony Matos

A Madness in Me | Leonardo Leonie

Little Daylight | Sarah Tan

• D’arline | Christina Jobe

Documentary Short

• Sisterly | Nina Vallado (Best Documentary Short)

Zahra | Sarah Tan (Honorable Mention, Documentary Short)

Greensill Groove | Joseph Chun

My Faith and Fro: Hair I Am| Felecia Datus

Native ISO | Anna Kerr

Connections | Joshua Yang

A Different God | Austin Greer

Issues | Anthony Matos

What SMing Is Really Like | Joel Wagness

Comedy Short

• Who Framed Lyndon Johnson | Andrew Hansen (Best Comedy Short)

Anne With an E | Sarah Tan (Honorable Mention, Comedy Short)

Senior Year | Blaine Holder, Kyle Hines, Musa Nkosi, Julena Allen, Tanya Soria and Adrian Aleman

Still Senior Year | Blaine Holder, Kyle Hines, Musa Nkosi, Julena Allen, Tanya Soria and Adrian Aleman

• At Grainger | Hayden Cox

• The Survivalist | Brandon and Taylor Walker

Animation Short

• Ila | Kit Clements and Kacey Layson (Best Animated Short)

• Satellite | Yuta Higuchi (Honorable Mention, Animated Short)

• The Answer | Hanna Justinen

• Paige’s Pastel | Hanna Leung

• A Brief Power Struggle | David Barrios

• Rock Hazard | Melissa Rodarte

• Le Petit Obervateur | Christin Smolinski

Art / Experimental Short

• 125 Pounds | Joshua Martin (Best Art/Experimental Short)

• Victory | Morgan Sanker (Honorable Mention, Art/Experimental Short)

• Bear Market | Sam Delaware

• Genesis | Julian Ybarra

• Anonymity | Anthony Matos

• Numb | Anthony Matos

• Learning to Swim | Elizabeth Kasowesky and Brian Tagalog

High School Short

• Ha’awi Aloha | Kayli Pascal-Martinez (Best High School Short)

• The Life of Earl | Arik Amodeo (Honorable Mention, High School Short)

• The Fool’s Prayer | Ethan Madding

• Living | Jomari Villoso

• The Backyard Beekeeper | Samuel Rivera

• Hiddin Color | Gabriella Popescu

• The Awakening | Lindsey Gispert

• Tech Zombies | Adam Adreveno

• You’re It | Samantha Magnelli