Sonscreen 2023: A Showcase and Safe Space for Young People Who Feel Called to Create

North American Division

Sonscreen 2023: A Showcase and Safe Space for Young People Who Feel Called to Create

Attendees screened 42 student films and several professional films, made valuable connections, and were inspired to use film for outreach and social awareness.

Media | United States | Christelle Agboka

The air was electric as student filmmakers, film professionals, and guests gathered for the North American Division’s (NAD) 21st annual Sonscreen Film Festival, held April 13–15, 2023, at Loma Linda University Church in California. At the second in-person festival since 2019, attendees screened 42 student films and several professional films, made valuable connections, and were inspired to use film for outreach and social awareness. Sonscreen concluded with a pitch competition, where aspiring filmmakers could compete for funding for film projects, followed by a rooftop reception and awards ceremony, where ten student films were awarded.

This year, Sonscreen began with The Piano, an animated film by Avery Kroll, a recent Southern Adventist University graduate and Master of Fine Arts student at Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tennessee). A young girl, transfixed by her father’s piano playing, joins him on the bench. They continue to play together as the daughter grows up, life moments appearing as a montage around the piano.

Kroll explained that the film was inspired by her father, a physician, who sat down at the piano to play every evening “no matter how tired he was.” He played through life’s ups and downs, including her older brother being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Piano became a love she still shares with him. “The piano symbolizes his relationship with God,” she said. “That is his core and foundation. Watching him go through challenges and turn to God is how I learned what a real relationship with God means. And I will pass it on to my kids in the future.”

Films as a Tool for Meaningful Dialogue

The Piano, which won Best in Festival, was one of many films shown poignantly representing life’s joys and struggles from the eyes of young creatives across North America. Several films were comedic. However, the three-day festival didn’t shy away from tough topics, including colorism, racial justice, mental illness, sexual identity, divorce, sex trafficking, the Ukraine conflict, and judgment day. It also highlighted several shared universal truths, such as the value of familial relationships, the fickleness of young love, and the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Julio C. Muñoz, Sonscreen executive director and NAD associate director of Communication, welcomes attendees to the 2023 festival. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)
Julio C. Muñoz, Sonscreen executive director and NAD associate director of Communication, welcomes attendees to the 2023 festival. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)

Soncreen selections fell into six categories: Dramatic Short, Documentary Short, Comedy Short, Art/Experimental Short, Animated Short, and High School Short. Honorable Mention awards were given for these categories. Other awards received were Best in Festival, Diversity in Film, Audience Choice, and Jury Selection. The 2023 jury included professional filmmakers Anthony Hackett, Jude Florido, Ryann Heim, Ryan Dixon, and Nina Vallado, who selected winners and provided critical feedback to each piece submitted for judging.

Each film block was followed by a question-and-answer session, led by university professors, festival associate director Rachel Scribner, and NAD Communication director Kimberly Luste Maran. These sessions allowed attendees to delve into the films’ themes and logistics or scout out actors or crew members. Young filmmakers also shared lessons learned, including “ask more questions,” “do it scared,” “listen,” and “try.” This segment showcased film as a tool for meaningful dialogue.

Sonscreen—An Educational Experience for Adventist University and Academy Students

Schools represented at the festival included Andrews University, La Sierra University, Oakwood University, Pacific Union College, Southern Adventist University, Walla Walla University, and Paradise Adventist Academy. Notably, it was the first time in five years that Andrews University had attended Sonscreen. Senior Khaylee Sands’ film The Deal, about a girl agreeing to go on a date with a guy only if he beat her at Uno, was the Andrews film screened at this year’s festival.

Speaking of her experience, Sands said, “I just wanted to be here. And then to find out that a film I did for a class assignment would be entered, I was humbled and honored.”

On Friday, April 14, 2023, at the NAD's Sonscreen Film Festival, special guest John Quinn, editor of The Chosen, the popular streaming series on the life of Jesus, screened selections of the series, offered insider editing secrets, and presented a masterclass on the integration of faith and filmmaking. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)
On Friday, April 14, 2023, at the NAD's Sonscreen Film Festival, special guest John Quinn, editor of The Chosen, the popular streaming series on the life of Jesus, screened selections of the series, offered insider editing secrets, and presented a masterclass on the integration of faith and filmmaking. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)

This year, Oakwood University students made their official Sonscreen debut. Samlyne Georges, senior film and TV major, won in the Art/Experimental Short category for Nina’s Song, a film celebrating the beauty of black people. The late Nina Simone, a musician and civil rights activist, narrated it. Georges conceptualized this project after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and was encouraged to see it through after returning to school post-pandemic. Her two other screened films touched on colorism and black love. While her films all spoke to the black experience, she said, “This is not a teachable moment. I just want to showcase what I see in the world.”

For Julio C. Muñoz, Sonscreen executive director and NAD associate director of Communication, the 2023 festival was better than ever. “This year’s festival stands out because the quality of the student films has improved by leaps and bounds, and the topics they tackle are challenging yet honest. We are so impressed by how this community continues to grow.”

Williams Costa Jr., General Conference Communication director, who returned to Sonscreen after six years, would concur. “[Since I last came], we have more creative films and a better understanding of movie production, with a consistent message. Overall, the scripting, photography, directing, lights, sound—everything—is better.”

Inspiring the Next Generation of Filmmakers

Rounding out the three-day festival were elements intended to educate and inspire. For instance, for a third year, Sonscreen showcased several professional films in partnership with the Windrider Theater, a community of Christian filmmakers who form an immersive, educational experience during the Sundance Film Festival. Themes these films covered included grief and the immigrant experience. Attendees were also inspired by a special presentation on virtual production by Walla Walla University’s head film professor, Jerry Hartman, in collaboration with sponsor AdventHealth media professionals Isaac Vallejo and Chris Bohlender.

Students, professors, and other guests mixed and mingled during a rooftop reception and awards ceremony held on the final day of the 2023 Sonscreen Film Festival. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)
Students, professors, and other guests mixed and mingled during a rooftop reception and awards ceremony held on the final day of the 2023 Sonscreen Film Festival. (Photo: Pieter Damsteegt)

On Friday, special guest John Quinn, editor of The Chosen, the popular streaming series on the life of Jesus, screened selections of the series, offered insider editing secrets, and presented a masterclass on the integration of faith and filmmaking. He also introduced attendees to Kristina Penny Daley, assistant editor of The Chosen, an Andrews University graduate, and previous Sonscreen attendee. The climax of Quinn’s presentation was an incredible moment in the season three finale: Peter walking on water, achieved with a huge tank, a boat on hydraulics, a rain machine, and a blue screen with visual effects. He also revealed, “I watched the cut 20 times at least, and I thought the footage was amazing, but I never got emotional. But [one day], it hit me hard for some reason. And that’s when I knew this scene [was] going to hit lots of people hard.”

The festival also spotlighted several Adventist colleges with professional content produced in collaboration with Sonscreen Films. These included a short film, Those Were the Good Days, from Sonscreen Films and Pacific Union College; a project trailer, Ancient of Days, from Pacific Union College; and a feature film, All the Wrong Ingredients, from Southern Adventist University. Those Were the Good Days, written and directed by Scribner, is part of The Happiness Project, an international Adventist Cross Media collaboration led by the Trans-European and Inter-European divisions; it is available for viewing on the project website.

From day one, the camaraderie among students was palpable, with multiple networking opportunities orchestrated by festival producer Tanya Musgrave. Michaela Hounslow, whose period film, Redcoat, won Best Dramatic Short this year and was the grand prize winner at the 2022 pitch competition, said, “Sonscreen is a special, incredibly unique place for Christian and Adventist filmmakers to come together. I appreciate so much that a place like this exists.”

Kroll added, “It’s rare to run into many Adventist creators outside the Adventist world because the entertainment industry is very secular. It’s encouraging to see other creatives who share our faith.”

Finally, Sonscreen championed the notion of film as a calling. In the student film Craving, producer Susie Kim tackled the struggle between following her artistic career dreams and pursuing the more conventional path desired by her family; in the end, her family supported her. During a Q&A segment, Pacific Union College Film professor Rajeev Sigamoney spoke to the seemingly majority contingent of healthcare professionals who joined the Friday night session. “Many of us went into the arts because we feel as called as we believe you feel called to help people.”

Scribner concluded, “Sonscreen is the only film festival sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And that’s what makes it so important. The church creates supportive, encouraging spaces where educators, pastors, and healthcare workers can connect with their peers, but there are fewer spaces like that for creatives. The young people who come here feel called to create. And Sonscreen is one small way we can honor their calling.”

List of Award Winners and Nominees

Best in Festival

The Piano | Avery Kroll—Best Animated Short

University in Film Award

The Right Move《那一步》| Ezekiel Canaan

Audience Choice Award

Minuteman | Jonathan Salvador and Nephtali Marin

Jury Selection Award

Echoes | Sierra Lewis

Pitch Competition Winners

First Place—Ashton Weiss | Lastlight

Second Place—Ziarah Carillo | Other Man

Third Place—Paula Macena | We Are the Unimportant

Official Selections—Dramatic Short

Redcoat | Michaela Hounslow—Best Dramatic Short

The Question |Trey Davis—Honorable Mention

Closure | Matheus Valente

Crossfire | Moses Kim

Demie | Samlyne Georges

Focus | Michael Rackley

Made With Love | Jayden Cushing

Manipulation | Samuel Guerra

Stay | Samlyne Georges

The Right Move《那一步》| Ezekiel Canaan

Unconditional | Atlas Snarr and Ysa Labaco

Official Selections—Documentary Short

The Modern Slave | Marcus Maynes—Best Documentary Short

Echoes | Sierra Lewis—Honorable Mention

Artistic Lens | Evelin Velinova

Both Sides of the Fence | Hannah Browning

Dari | Kateryna Poprakivna

Echoes | Sierra Lewis

Flag Farm USA | Tyler Lindo

The Power of a Passion | Samantha Hodges

Official Selections—Comedy Short

Taste of Love | Adam Adreveno—Best Comedy Short

Free Hats | Nick Cox—Honorable Mention

Avocado Desperado | Kamden Dockens

Finding Yourself | Sam Birky

Minuteman | Jonathan Salvador and Nephtali Marin

The Deal | Khaylee Sands

Wear the Shirt | Aja Knight

Official Selections—Art/Experimental Short

Nina’s Song | Samlyne Georges—Best Art/Experimental Short

Broken Circuits | Melaney Klinedinst—Honorable Mention

According to Hoyle | Briana Hanson

Aeschylus | Steven Crary

Birthday Cake | Ruslan Zavricico

Holo Taco | Krista VanHook

Sheol | Brad Clark

Space Disaster | Ian Olson

The Answer | William Frohne

Official Selections—Animated Short

The Piano | Avery Kroll—Best Animated Short

I Want to be a Tree of the Lord 《神様の樹になりたい》| Mugi Kinoshita—Honorable Mention

Breaking Point | Soleil Joseph

Craving | Susie Kim

Pocket | Rachel Ibarbia

The Unicorn | Jennifer Watkins

Official Selections—High School Short

Advance Preparation | Paradise Adventist Academy Visual Storytelling Class—Best High School Short

Foreigner with a Passport to Another Planet | Kailani Stroup—Honorable Mention

About Sonscreen Film Festival

The festival was created and is sponsored by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists as the annual gathering for young creatives who have a passion for using film for the purpose of creating timely, relevant productions for social awareness, evangelistic outreach, and uplifting, creative entertainment. Click here for more info about Sonscreen.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division website.