The Sonscreen Film Fesitval 2024 Unveils the Power of Faith-Based Cinema, Showcasing Emerging Talent

[Photo: Pieter Damsteegt]

The Sonscreen Film Fesitval 2024 Unveils the Power of Faith-Based Cinema, Showcasing Emerging Talent

The festival was created by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists as the annual gathering for young creatives passionate about using film for social awareness, evangelistic outreach, and uplifting entertainment.

United States | Christelle Agboka, with ANN Staff

A cluttered, garbage-strewn room. A broken man battling drugs and alcohol, haunted by his father’s death by suicide. Church as a site of both hurt and healing.

These are a few provocative scenes from “Refuse,” the first film shown at the Soncreen Film Festival, the North American Division’s (NAD) 22nd annual film festival for young Christian filmmakers. Embedded within the hard-hitting, faith-based horror film was the message that love can cast our demons. “Refuse” was one of seven professional films, which included an Academy Award®-winning movie, screened alongside 40 student films, at Loma Linda University Church in California, United States, from April 4 to 6, 2024. 

Sonscreen leaders set the tone for inclusion and respect from day one. “Sonscreen is a safe space where you can share your creative voice and talk about challenging issues,” said Julio C. Muñoz, Sonscreen executive director and NAD associate communication director. He added that regardless of background or worldview, “You are welcome here. You belong here.”

In his session, "Refuse" actor, writer, and director Kenneth Chang stressed, “If there’s one place you can be totally fearless, it’s in storytelling.” After the screening and Q&A, Chang, a pastor educated at Fuller Seminary, spent time talking with student filmmakers. This was a trend each professional filmmaker followed at this year's event — in addition to scheduled times for engagement.

Sonscreen provided several networking and professional development opportunities, including career talks from seasoned filmmakers and a new “luncheon with a professional.” The third annual pitch competition offered emerging filmmakers funding for projects. 

The festival concluded with a highly anticipated reception and awards ceremony, where 13 students awards were distributed as attendees cheered on their peers. Student films were recognized across six categories — dramatic short, documentary short, comedy short, art/experimental, animated short, high school short, and an audience choice award. 

Additional awards included the brand new “emerging voice award” and the Sonscreen vision award,” presented for the first time since 2019. And while the jury has, in past years, honored a film with a special award, this year’s festival presented four separate special jury awards for achievement in archival research, creative storytelling, visual style, and writing. Juror and screenwriter Ryan Dixon announced the special jury awards during the ceremony and explained that the jury members felt compelled to present the additional awards due to the high quality of student work.

The "Sonscreen Vision Award" went to Rajeev Sigamoney, Pacific Union College’s (PUC) visual arts department chair, for his contributions to Sonscreen over the last 22+ years.
The "Sonscreen Vision Award" went to Rajeev Sigamoney, Pacific Union College’s (PUC) visual arts department chair, for his contributions to Sonscreen over the last 22+ years.

The night’s final prize, the “Sonscreen Vision Award,” also new, was given to Rajeev Sigamoney, Pacific Union College’s (PUC) visual arts department chair, for his support of Sonscreen from its inception (read more here). A tearful Sigamoney praised Sonscreen for supporting projects such as “The Record Keeper” and providing him and other artists of faith a sense of community. He also thanked the current organizers, including Muñoz, festival associate director Rachel Scribner, festival producer Tanya Musgrave, and NAD communication director Kimberly Luste Maran.

“We love you, Rajeev!” a PUC student shouted, Sigamoney’s students swarming him as he ended his short acceptance speech.. 

Schools represented in person included Andrews University, Hinsdale Academy, La Sierra University, Oakwood University, Pacific Union College, Southern Adventist University, Walla Walla University, and Richmond Academy. Point Loma Nazarene University, a Christian liberal arts college in San Diego, California, also had an official entry. 

Jacob Capiña, the “Emerging Voice Award” winner, was an outlier as his academy, Hinsdale, does not have a film program. He especially appreciated being able to share thoughts and ideas with filmmaking peers. “This networking opportunity for people like us in the Adventist world has been impactful for me,” he stated. 

Films Cover the Gamut of Human Experience

Sonscreen films made attendees laugh, cry, gasp, and think, tackling topics such as racism, civil rights and other unsung heroes, mental health challenges, war, and family relationships. Several covered discovering one’s calling, including “Sara Hunter, Birth Photographer,” by Nicole Edisa Djirah Sabot, which won best documentary short and best in festival for its skillful entry into the little-known work of documenting the birthing process.

The 2024 Sonscreen was jam-packed with film and various educational or networking opportunities. Here, the audience is listening intently.
The 2024 Sonscreen was jam-packed with film and various educational or networking opportunities. Here, the audience is listening intently.

Another recurring theme was being authentic, as in “Pics,” which draws from Oakwood University student Hannah Browning’s experience publicly revealing her alopecia. After “Pics” won best dramatic short, Browning said, “It’s not all about the awards. What moved me most was how “Pics” touched people. I see the award as a tangible reminder of that.”

Sonscreen participants also used film as an avenue to explore their faith. For instance, “Pics” prominently featured a poster emblazoned with “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Winning high school film “His Blessing,” from Richmond Academy's film class, effectively used a split screen to contrast life with and without the Sabbath. It was inspired by director Nicole Da Luz’s experience losing, then regaining, the gift of the Sabbath due to a temporary lapse in church attendance after her family moved to the U.S. from Brazil. 

Speaking of her overall Sonscreen experience, Da Luz said, “It’s really interesting to see the spark in everybody’s eyes when they talk about their films, or when they see a film they like. … I want to give somebody a reason to have that spark.” 

Chase Smith, a Walla Walla University student, shared that producing “Miracles,” about overcoming leukemia as a toddler, helped him reflect on his faith. “I have to keep reminding myself I’m lucky to be here. And I have a purpose, making these films,” Smith said. He hopes to share “message[s] that can help people” throughout his career.

Professional Films Offer Aspirational Aspect

Sonscreen incorporated professional films throughout, which organizers intended to be aspirational. Several came from Adventist entities, such as “Life on the Line: Finding Hope in Ukraine,” a Loma Linda University Advancement Films production highlighting the work of Adventist clinic Angelia Hospital in war-torn Ukraine; notably, this film helped raise $4 million for a children’s hospital.

A special treat for Sonscreen 2024 attendees was meeting the cast of "The Color of Threads," a professional film that premiered on Friday evening. They are pictured here with Rachel Scribner (far right), Sonscreen associate director.
A special treat for Sonscreen 2024 attendees was meeting the cast of "The Color of Threads," a professional film that premiered on Friday evening. They are pictured here with Rachel Scribner (far right), Sonscreen associate director.

The Color of Threads,” about five women weavers trying to escape their pasts, directed by Richard Ramsey and co-created, produced, and written by Walla Walla University graduate Josie Henderson, premiered at this year’s festival. It is one of the ongoing collaborative projects between Sonscreen Films and Adventist universities.

For a fourth year, Sonscreen featured professional films in partnership with the Windrider Institute, a community of filmmakers from different faiths who meet at the Sundance Film Festival to watch movies and discuss the intersection between film and faith. Most of these filmmakers were present at Sonscreen, including Mikaela Bruce (“Not Afraid,” on murdered and missing Indigenous women) and Chang (“Refuse”). 

Sonscreen’s collaboration with Windrider also enabled attendees to enjoy the Academy Award®-winning documentary short “The Last Repair Shop,” which tells the stories of technicians helping the Los Angeles Unified School District continue to provide free instruments in good working order to K to 12 public school students. In a pre-recorded interview with Walla Walla University professor Jerry Hartman, filmmaker Ben Proudfoot shared these gems: 1) reframe rejection; 2) have a long-term career plan; and 3) surround yourself with people who believe in you. 

Expanded Learning and Networking Opportunities 

The 2024 festival expanded its career-building tools. The “LA Luncheon with a Professional” was a popular new feature allowing attendees to sit at a table with professionals in all aspects of filmmaking, whether cinematography, directing, documentary filmmaking, entertainment law, producing, or screenwriting, in small groups. 

Ruslan Zavricicio, who sat with a professional narrative director, said, “It was really helpful to have that dialogue with a professional and feel safe enough to share your thoughts, your fears, your inspirations, and hopes about directing.”

During the popular "LA Luncheon with a Professional" feature at the 2024 Sonscreen, attendees gleaned wisdom from industry professionals such as Talia Shea Levin, screenwriter/director/producer.
During the popular "LA Luncheon with a Professional" feature at the 2024 Sonscreen, attendees gleaned wisdom from industry professionals such as Talia Shea Levin, screenwriter/director/producer.

The pitch competition gave students the experience of sharing their vision with a live audience and jury. Cash prizes included first place — $3,500, second place — $1,500, third place — $750, and a $250 audience choice award, based on pitches including budget, audience, marketing, and distribution. Films on gentrification and commercial-driven displacement took the top awards.

Javad Karimabadi, who won the audience choice award for a film on repairing an estranged father-son relationship, said, “[Sonscreen] has [helped me see] what I’m capable of, especially in terms of creative development and things I’ve worked on through the pitch.” 

One was “A Networking Story” by Simon Knobloch, a producer, director, and teacher at the SAE Institute in Germany. He shared that the German word for relationship is beziehung, and a common saying is that somebody used Vitamin B — B for beziehung — i.e., achieved something by capitalizing on relationships.

Knobloch shared networking success stories. For instance, as the creative producer for Hope Media Europe’s Daniel TV series, he found the entire crew through school, volunteer, or work connections. “Don’t ever underestimate any person you meet,” he said. He also spoke of accessing elusive materials for an episode on the Qumran (Dead Sea) scrolls after praying and cold contacting a German Bible researcher. With emotion, he made another point — “You should never underestimate the connection you have to heaven.”

Other educational presentations included Richard L. Ramsey speaking about his upcoming film “Unsung Hero,” on the musical ascent of “For King and Country” (Joel and Luke Smallbone) and Rebecca St. James; and Julian Curi, who gave an honest account of the ups and downs of DIY filmmaking after his film, “Gruff,” a paper-cut animated short about learning to accept love in different forms, was screened. 

Finally, while speaking on his journey securing a distribution deal for his film, “All the Wrong Ingredients,” after a year of attending festivals, Southern Adventist University professor Nicholas Livanos praised Sonscreen for being exceptional in terms of organization and technical aspects. But most impressive, he said, is the community it fosters. 

Livanos concluded, “I’ve seen us cheer on high school Star Wars fan films. I’ve seen students win awards with humility and grace, which I can only aspire to. And I’ve seen the competition for those awards take a backseat to the fellowship of new friends and old. I have been shaken by the love that pours out of people here. Thank you for your films. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for being exactly you while selflessly serving a purpose greater than you.”

List of Award Winners

Best in Festival
Sara Hunter: Birth Photographer | Nicole Edisa Djirah Sabot

Sonscreen Vision Award
Rajeev Sigamoney

Special Jury Award: Achievement in Archival Research
The Man Who Killed Jim Crow | Fitzroy Powell

Special Jury Award: Achievement in Creative Storytelling
The Prince of Cinema | Nick Radivojevic

Special Jury Award: Achievement in Visual Style
Evelyn | Megan Lira

Special Jury Award: Achievement in Writing
Minority Report | Dylan Sails and Melaney Klinedinst

Emerging Voice Award
Playplace | Jacob Capiña

Audience Choice Award
Inner Space | Josué Hilario

Best Dramatic Short
Pics | Hannah Browning

Best Documentary Short
Sara Hunter: Birth Photographer | Nicole Edisa Djirah Sabot

Best Comedy Short
Dingus Saves the World | Kamden Dockens

Best Art/Experimental
Words Have Power | Tristen Campbell

Best Animated Short
Levitation Kit | Rileigh Juba

Best High School Short
His Blessing | Nicole Da Luz

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 passionate about using film to create timely, relevant productions for social awareness, evangelistic outreach, and uplifting, creative entertainment. 

The original article was published on the North American Division website.