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Best Art/Experimential Short winners (left) and Best in Festival winners (tie, on right) enjoy a moment together after the 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival award ceremony on April 6. Photo by Dan Weber

The Sonscreen Film Festival broke records this year as 265 student filmmakers, professors, professionals, and enthusiasts screened 57 official selections during the event held at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, on April 4-6, 2019. The official selections came from a pool of 95 submissions.

The three-day festival, run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), screened the official selections from student filmmakers, and gave the young adults the opportunity to ask their peers questions about their films. The event culminated with an awards ceremony and closing reception, with 12 student films garnering awards.

“Sonscreen continues to grow each year, both in film submissions and attendance,” said says Julio Muñoz, director of the Sonscreen Film Festival and associate director of the NAD Office of Communication. “Last year we broke records with 61 student film submissions. This year we jumped to 95. It’s exciting to see the numbers increase as well as the caliber of films continue to rise. We have a limited number of films we can accept into the festival — we’re glad we could extend from 47 last year to 57 this year.”

First time attendee, Andrew Cathlin, working on his master’s degree in Television and Cinema Production at Regent University learned of Sonscreen through an article. He submitted a Christian-themed film based on a true story. “I’m really blown away by the talented filmmakers within the faith, the Seventh-day Adventist schools,” he said. “Media is a very powerful outlet to reach people and tell stories. It’s great that the Adventist Church hosts something like this that allows people who want tell stories through film.”

Several Sonscreen 2019 high school filmmakers (left to right: Alina Weber, Lindsey Gispert, and Brandon Cheddar) answer audience questions after a film block screening on April 5. Photo by Dan Weber

Six short professional films were also shown, and the Plantation Seventh-day Adventist Church Film Ministry discussed clips of their feature length film during Sabbath programming. On Sunday morning, attendees were treated to a bonus screening — the premier of the Web series Arnion (“The Lamb”), a collaborative effort withthe NAD, the Walla Walla University Center for Media Ministry, and Rachel Scribner, a Walla Walla graduate student who adapted the script and produced the NAD’s version. Arnion was originally produced by Stimme der Hoffnung, the European Adventist Media Center of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The NAD purchased the rights to adapt this series on Revelation geared for a postmodern and Adventist audience.

Throughout seven student film blocks and after professional film screenings, Q&A sessions were conducted. Special guests to the festival included Jay Stern, film producer; Jordi Ros, screenwriter; Chris and Tatia Cibelli, film editors; Nick Livanos, writer and director of The Belly of the Whale; Paul Kim, director and producer of The Book of Joshua; Timothy Standish, Geoscience Research Institute senior scientist; and Klaus Popa, CEO of Hope Media Europe (Stimme’s new name), and Adrian Dure, producer at Hope Media Europe and director/producer of the original Arnion.

Livanos, film production professor at Southern Adventist University, said, “Sonscreen as a film festival is great. It’s part of our Adventist community as filmmakers and I love getting together with the other schools and working on being allies and realizing that we are all part of the same team. I love the moments where we come together and people are cheering really loud for another school and another filmmaker because they love what they did and it becomes about how all of us really are a big family.”

“We continue to strive for 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,” said Muñoz.

Rodney Vance, director of the La Sierra University film program, interviews film producer Jay Stern, who received the Sonscreen Vision Award, during the April 4, 2019, Sonscreen keynote session. Photo by Dan Weber

Summer Medina, La Sierra University senior film major has been attending Sonscreen since she was in high school. “It’s a really great place that Adventist filmmakers can express themselves,” she said. “This isn’t really common in our [Adventist] culture; I think it’s cool to see everyone supporting each other from all the different schools, meeting new people and watching films. [At Sonscreen] you meet new people who you might collaborate with in the future.”

Medina added, “It’s a great place to find encouragement.”

For 19 years, Sonscreen has provided young adult filmmakers the opportunity to share their work, learn from professionals, network, and receive recognition for their work. The 57 official selections were divided into six categories: animated short, art/experimental short, dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, and high school short.

The festival concluded with the presentation of 10 Sonny Awards: Best Art/Experimental Short, Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short, Best High School Short, Best Comedy Short, Best Dramatic Short, Jury Selection, Audience Choice, and Best in Festival (tie). Honorable Mention awards were also given for Art/Experimental, Comedy, Dramatic, Documentary, and Animated short films.

Tatia and Chris Cibelli (left), professional film editors, talk to student filmmakers during a meal break at the 2019 Sonscreen Film Festival.

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

“I think it’s pretty huge to have the Seventh-day Adventist Church sponsoring something like this, a film festival,” said Livanos. “Our church doesn’t have a long reputation of being a fan of the movies, so it’s remarkable [that] all these people see that film can be this meaningful tool for self-expression or sharing the message of Christ, or sharing a humanitarian story that just has weight and importance.”

The 2019 Sonscreen Official Selections and Award Winners

Best in Festival (tie) 
Charlie | Sarah Martinez
Beep Bop Symphony | Christin Smolinski

Audience Choice Award
Beep Bop Symphony | Christin Smolinski

Jury Selection
Car Treble | Noah Dauncey

2019 Sonscreen Vision Award
Jay Stern

To view winners in each category, Click HERE

— Kimberly Luste Maran is an associate director of Communication for the North American Division; CLICK HERE for more photos from the festival.

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