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.”
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), Loma Linda University, 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.”
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.”
Click here for a list of this year’s Sonscreen Film Festival Winners, found near the bottom of the webpage.