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La Sierra’s Film Program Trains the Next Generation of Adventist Storytellers


Stories are crucial to the identity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Adventist denomination grew out of vivid narratives of a people overcoming trials, shared and re-shared until the stories reached around the globe. For the Seventh-day Adventist community to maintain and evolve its identity, it is important that the denomination’s future professionals, particularly those in Adventist higher education, master the art of storytelling.

Rodney Vance, the chair of the Film & Television Department at La Sierra University, says this is why it is important to learn how stories are crafted, and how to use them effectively. “We tell each other stories because they tell us who we are, they become foundational to our lives. [Stories make] a family more than blood,” he said. For Vance, stories create strong bonds, “they formed us into a church… [like] the stories in the Seventh-Day Adventist community of James and Ellen White.”

La Sierra is one of the latest Adventist institutions to add filmmaking to its educational offerings in order to equip the next generation of storytellers in a time of flux. Keeping up in the growing, changing world of online media requires mastery of visual storytelling on fast-evolving new media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and even Vine. 

“There is a tremendous demand for people with visual story telling skills in our culture today,” said Vance.  “Every corporation has a media department, where there are people equipped to communicate the message of the institution through visual storytelling, and this is what we are preparing our students to do.”  

Visual storytelling is in high demand for careers in business, public relations, advertising, filmmaking, and that just scratches the surface.

Every course in La Sierra’s Film & Television major “teaches the value of a particular craft from the point of view of storytelling,” according to the La Sierra University website’s film studies page. What students learn, from editing, to scriptwriting and cinematography helps improve their ability to tell stories effectively.

Kaitlin Palma, a junior in Film and & Television major, says the course that has helped her the most was short scriptwriting. “This class taught us that superfluous detail does not mean a thing unless there is a cohesive, attention-grabbing story behind it,” she said.

Palma learned to tell stories with a limited page count, “The limitations are a key part of this career […] this way we can learn how to be stronger writers,” she said.  

“My favorite project was a full-length feature script I wrote my first year. I am still working on solidifying the script, but it has most definitely sparked my passion in wanting to write full features,” Palma said.

For sophomore Daniel Larios, Advanced Screenwriting proved most difficult. “It is the class that has challenged me the most, forcing me to develop a firm grasp on what story-telling fundamentally does and what mastering it entails. I have a much more developed idea of what it will take for me to make it as a screenwriter, and I feel I am on the right track,” said Larios. In terms of his goals in the future he adds, “I would love to be able to make a living off screenwriting or playwriting. I would love to be the creator/showrunner of a TV show.”  

Larios knows that it’ll take more than a degree to get where he wants to go with visual media. “It’s what I learned earning it and the portfolio of work I developed in the process . . . That’s what’s going to kick doors open for me,” he remarked.

Like Larios, Rodney Vance zeroes in on practice and experience as keys to preparing students for careers in visual media. “The best way to take advantage of La Sierra is to take courses, and use equipment to develop the craft but also to spend a significant amount of time becoming known in the career in which you want to work.” One such experience of a lifetime was a trip to the 2014 Emmy Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles for two La Sierra students. Rodney Vance took Darren Thomas and Kelanie Aragon to the awards show to help the students imagine their own potential.

But nothing is handed to students on a silver platter.

Students need internships and opportunities to work side by side with professionals who know the craft. La Sierra tries to facilitate those opportunities by offering work on projects that allow students to collaborate with top notch professionals.

One such project La Sierra students got in on is the forthcoming short film, “The Butterfly, The Harp and The Timepiece,” which stars Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo and the Golden Globe-winning lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Alex Ebert. The film’s score was composed by Alex Geringas, who won the 2013 Grammy for Best Pop Album.  The film will hit the festival circuit this fall and then will be released to the general public next summer, according to La Sierra’s film department webpage. 

The short tells three stories about treasured objects and their impact on the people who use them to connect to their inmost desires. The film has been entered into the Palm Springs Short Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the United States and a frequent stop on the way to the Academy Awards. La Sierra Film & Television students were part of the camera crew, operating cameras, sound and art direction, including a behind the scenes feature. In light of the film Vance noted, “the result is looking very good…something La Sierra can be proud of.”  La Sierra students will also contribute to a feature screenplay based on the true story of an Adventist medic in Vietnam, which is slated to become a feature film.

Reflecting on her experience in La Sierra’s film program, Kaitlin Palma said, “the benefit is that you meet people who have strikingly similar interests in the world of film, while being in a religious environment.”  “The best part is that the teachers are very experienced and I do have lots of time to talk and interact with them,” she said.


Brenda Delfino is an English major with a writing emphasis at La Sierra University, and a student intern for Spectrum.




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