Stories & Commentaries

Student and Professional Filmmakers Attend Sonscreen Film Festival

Audience choice award winners

Audience Choice Award winners, Andrews University students Denae Keizs, Heidi Ramirez, Kiana Gurley, and Madai Villa, pose for a photo with Julio Muñoz, Sonscreen Film Festival director, and Kimberly Luste Maran, NAD Office of Communication assistant director. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

More than 200 student and professional filmmakers and guests attended the 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival held at Loma Linda University in California. The three-day festival, run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), screened 39 official selections from student filmmakers. The event culminated with a closing reception and awards ceremony, with 10 student films garnering awards.

Ten professional films were also screened at this year’s festival. Q&A sessions were conducted after film block screenings and guest presentations. Special guests to the festival included Bill Mechanic (producer, Hacksaw Ridge), Debora Galloway (head of grassroots marketing, Hacksaw Ridge), Terry Benedict (producer, Hacksaw Ridge), Kevin Ekvall (director, Come Before Winter), Stew Harty (director, Loma Linda University Church media department), David George (professor, Southern Adventist University), NAD president Dan Jackson, and Williams Costa Jr., communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters.

“This year’s festival showcased some of the best student filmmaking we’ve ever had. We were also able to host several award-winning professional filmmakers to share their knowledge with the students,” said Julio Muñoz, director of the Sonscreen Film Festival and associate director of the NAD Office of Communication. “We want these students to grow artistically, and to know that their films play an important part in sharing hope and making our world more inclusive.”

Best in festival award winners

Best in Festival award winners John Butler, Brady Griffin, from Southern Adventist University Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

For 17 years, Sonscreen has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. The 39 official selections were divided into five categories: animated short, dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short (a new category), and high school short.

The festival concluded with the presentation of 11 Sonny Awards: Best Sound Design, 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 Comedy, Dramatic, Documentary, and Animated short.

The Sonscreen Vision Award was presented to Mechanic. The award recipient should be someone who, as described by Sonscreen organizers, is “a visual storyteller who, through a distinguished career, shares their unique artistry and creative vision with the world through cinema.” Mechanic, president and CEO of Pandemonium Film, was the producer of the Academy Award-winning film Hacksaw Ridge. He was also the CEO and chair of 20th Century Fox film studios, overseeing the production of Titanic, Braveheart, and Castaway, among many more, which helped the studio earn 42 Oscar nominations during his term.

Terry Benedict, a producer on Hacksaw Ridge and the producer/director of the award-winning documentary The Conscientious Objector, received the Sonscreen Vanguard Award for his numerous professional achievements as well as his leading the way for Christian filmmakers to find success in mainstream cinema.

Schools and student groups represented at the festival included Andrews University, Hawaiian Mission Academy, La Sierra Academy, La Sierra University, Loma Linda Academy, Loma Linda University, Pacific Union College (PUC), Plantation Seventh-day Adventist Church (in Florida), Spencerville Adventist Academy (in Maryland), Southern Adventist University (SAU), Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), and Walla Walla University.

Jackson Ausmus, a senior film major at PUC who has been to the festival before, said that this year’s films were “Really good.” He recommended the event for students at all skill levels. “The films are great, for one, and it is a really fun atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone asks lots of questions and you learn a lot even if you don’t have much experience.”

Two films in particular stood out for Ausmus: “Come Before Winter on Dietrich Bonhoeffer was really inspiring. And the Life After Film School documentary was really moving — and I learned what I could expect after school.”

Practical tips on directing and cinematography were takeaways for Judy Yong, a SWAU communication - radio, TV, and film major. Yong, who wants to be a Christian filmmaker, said that the “testimonies in Life After Film School were meaningful to me. The realities of after school and working hard for what you want — it inspires me — most of them didn’t know where they were going and didn’t feel that they were up to the challenge at first.”

When asked what she thought of the festival in general, Yong simply replied, “I loved it.”

Julio Muñoz talks to film producer Bill Mechanic about his career

Julio Muñoz talks to film producer Bill Mechanic about his career, including his work on "Hacksaw Ridge," the recent film on Adventist Army medic Desmond Doss, on April 6, 2017. 
Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

David George, film professor from SAU, and producer of Life After Film School, a documentary filled with interviews of recent Adventist film graduates, also expressed appreciation for Sonscreen. “Just a few years ago it wasn’t clear that the festival was going to continue so I want to express my gratitude to Julio and Dan [Weber] for bringing it back from the brink and putting it on a really solid foundation; for [NAD] allocating resources — time and energy and money — to make this possible,” said George. “One of the most important things to all of us is community; this is one of the most important events that the church sponsors to help foster this community.”

Below are the 2017 Sonny Award nominees and winners:
Best Sound Design
500,000 Miles to the Moon and Back
Dear Hamilton
Foreign Native
The Other Side (Winner: Summer Medina, La Sierra University)
The Prepper
Best Animated Short
Bearly Awake (Winner: Stephanie Owen, Southern Adventist University)
Book of the Month
Fenton Forest Animatic
Small Imagination (Honorable Mention: Richard Roberts, Southern Adventist University)
Best Cinematography
Chef’s Table: Walla Walla (Winner: Jacob Patterson, Walla Walla University)
Dear Hamilton
Foreign Native
The Other Side
The Prepper
Best Documentary Short
Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Chef’s Table: Walla Walla
Class of 2017 // One Step Forward
Foreign Native (Honorable Mention: Denae Keizs, Andrews University)
Our Town
The Hugs Project (Winner: Stephen Allcock, Jeriah Richardson, Maxine Murray, Andrews University)
Best High School Short
Amazing Grace
Dewey Dixon (Winner: Baily Nolfe, Malia Bishop, Loma Linda Academy)
Moving On (Honorable Mention: Melanie Diaz, Hawaii Mission Academy)
My Own Worst Enemy
Best Comedy Short
100% Match (Honorable Mention: Shane Miosi, Southwestern Adventist University)
Capture (Winner: John Butler, Brady Griffin, Southern Adventist University)
Catering for Kidnap
Company is Coming – Remix
Old People vs. Snapshot
Reel Fitness: Post Pro
The Deep End - Pilot
The Prepper
Best Dramatic Short
500,000 Miles to the Moon and Back
Dear Hamilton (Honorable Mention: Taylor Smith, Pacific Union College)
Shelter (Winner: D’arce Peter, Royce Pajela, Southern Adventist University)
The Follow Through
The Other Side
White Collar
Best Original Screenplay
100% Match
500,000 Miles to the Moon and Back
Dear Hamilton
The Follow Through (Winner: Grace Romstad, Pacific Union College)
Jury Selection
Class of 2017 // One Step Forward (Jacob Patterson, Walla Walla University)
Audience Choice
Foreign Native (Denae Keizs, Madai Villa, Heidi Ramirez, Kiana Gurley, Andrews University)
Best in Festival
Capture (John Butler, Brady Griffin, Southern Adventist University)

— For more photos from the 2017 Sonscreen Film Festival, click here.