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SONscreen: SDA Film Festival in Image and Word

Saturday at the 7th Annual SONscreen Film Festival in Simi Valley, California featured second and third helpings of everything that made the three-day event the best showcase of talent and artistry in Adventism: spirited music, powerful speaking that highlighted social causes, lively discussion, plenty of food, fabulous (sometimes provocative) films, and an awards gala second only to the Oscars…almost.

It was my first time attending SONscreen, and the images and words that follow convey some of the experience I had interacting with Adventist writers, producers, filmmakers and pew people. If you’ve never attended SONscreen, begin planning to be there in 2010–it is an oustanding experience!

Nothing like a big sign at the end of my MapQuest to let me know I am in the right place!

Adventist Media Center, Simi Valley, California

The Adventist Media Center in Simi Valley features several shiny studios where Adventist performers create segments for television and film. The Media Center has hosted SONscreen since the festival’s inception in 2002. Walls are lined with photos of popular evangelist and World Church vice president Mark Finley and other SDA stars.

Daniel Weber, who produced the Adventist Mission DVD (Above) shared the story behind the story during the Sabbath School hour at the festival.

Lennox Fleary Worship Praise Band

Caribbean-born, self-taught musician Lennox Fleary led worship on Sabbath morning with the praise band from the Hollywood Adventist Church. The highly talented group performed a combination of well-known praise tunes and original songs. Fleary’s solo project, My Father’s House features what he calls “acoustic fusion: bluesy jazz acoustic guitar stuff.”

Chris Christmas

Designer and brand management guru Chris Christmas (yes, that’s his real name) gave Saturday morninges keynote address. Christmas, who has provided services for megacorporations like Reebok, the NBA, MTV, Viacom and BET. He has worked for professional athletes like Shaquille O’neal and Michael Jordan. More recently, he was the exclusive designer of the Democratic National Convention.

Christmas grew up in a foster home with several foster brothers and sisters for whom he was often responsible. When they got into trouble, he mediated on their behalf. His Adventist parents, who were civil rights activists during the 1950’s and 1960’s, cared for mentally disabled children, and interactions with them left a deep impression on Christmas.

His challenge to Christian artists and filmmakers is to “think BLUE,” a concept that comes from his Thinking Blue campaign. An image of jazz legend Miles Davis standing and looking pensive prior to playing inspired the campaign, which encourages thought before reaction and raises awareness of child abuse. Blue is the color for child abuse prevention month.

Chris Christmas and Stacia Wright

Here, Chris Christmas talks with SONscreen founder and director, Stacia Wright. Stacia Wright’s vision, talents, and hard work have made the SONscreen film festival a mainstay for young and aspiring filmmakers as well as veterans of the industry. SONscreen’s sponsors include the North American Division of SDA’s and Adventist Media Productions as well as Adventist Filmmaker.

Central Valley Christian Academy

The festival encourages the participation of student filmmakers. Here, a group of students from Central Valley Christian Academy enjoy a moment on stage. They are (left to right) Chris Reeve, Dima Panchenko, Brian Snarr (who teaches filmmaking classes and math at CVSA), Maverick Khongphan, and Sam Smith. The group’s submission to the festival, “God Squad,” was not among the offial selections screened during the three-day festival. Still, the students seemed to be enjoying participating in the event, even in spite of an over-five-hour drive from Modesto. CVSA students who have taken Snarr’s film class have gone on to study communications at Walla Walla and film at Southern Adventist University. Sam Smith plans to attend Southern, and says he might add film as a minor.

Albert Sabate and Adrian James

Albert Sabate and Adrian James represented the collegiate demographic, a key constituency at SONscreen. College students make up a large portion of entrants in the festival. Sabate and James shared a pared down version of their project, “The Last Generation,” a documentary that offers an inside look at a fundamentalist movement among Southern California Adventists. The presentation elicited spirited discussion from audience members with its provocative yet balanced look at an intriguing movement among Adventist youth and young adults. [Video interview with the film’s creators coming soon!]

David Magidoff and Rajeev Sigamoney

David Magidoff, the artistic director for the Monkey Butler Comedy Company and Rajeev Sigamoney, who co-wrote the comedy film Jesus People shared the stage during a panel discussion on the Church’s place in Hollywood. Magidoff and Sigamoney discussed among other things the importance not neccessarily of Christian comedy, but of comedy made by Christians.

Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun and current executive director for the Act ONE program and Ryan Bell, the pastor of the Hollywood SDA Church and Spectrum contributor, sat on the panel Sabbath afternoon. Nicolosi talked about the importance of bringing a note of hope to the machine that is Hollywood and the necessity of maintaining beauty and excellence in art. “When you walk into St. Peter’s,” she said, “there’s no crap there.” Bell noted that contrary to the popular conception of “Tinseltown”–that it is a dark place of degredation–there is a lot of light in Hollywood. It doesn’t take a Christian to care or be loving, he noted, though Christians should be informed by a different eschatology, a different sense for where the story is going.

Panel Discussion

The panel that conversed on the place of the Church in Hollywood is (from left to right) Melody George, the director of Marbles With Thoreau, David Magidoff, Rajeev Sigamoney, Barbara Nicolosi, and Ryan Bell.


During the audience Q&A portion of the conversation, an audience member asked panelists whether their involvement in the Hollywood industry was tantamount to being worldly. The questioner cited Scripture calling for “being in the world” but “not of the world.”

Ryan Bell responded that the tension might be described as being an oxygen-breathing creature in the water, but not of the water. Being in the water, he said, requires getting wet. But it does not require drowning.

The festival ended Saturday night with an awards ceremony to honor the judges’ selections for outstanding work in seven categories. Judges were Warren Judd, CEO of AMP Studios, Rajmund Dabrowski, GC Director of Communication, Cheryl Jenkins, a producer, Costin Jordache, Pastor of the Dallas First Church, and Jason Satterlund, the Director of Big Puddle Films.

Adam Buck of Southern Adventist Univeristy won the $2000 Sonny award as the “Best in Fest” for his eleven-minute drama, “Electronic Solutions.”

Other award recipients:


“Tezcatlipoca” RT 3:15

Robin George, Southern Adventist Univ. (Animation)


“A New Beginning” RT 4:22

Calvin Chuang, Avondale College, Australia (Drama)

*Category Sponsor: General Conference Communications

COMEDY ($250 Prize)

“Skin Tight” RT 8:27

Phillip Sherwood & Donavan Davis, Southern Adventist Univ.

DOCUMENTARY ($250 Prize)

“Grow Up” RT 8:43

Timothy Wolfer, Pacific Union College

*Category Sponsor : Adventist Mission

DRAMA ($250 Prize)

“Holy Hush” RT 12:00

Mark Grey, Agape Theatre, England, UK

MUSIC VIDEO ($250 Prize)

“The Gospel” RT 4:56

Carl Canwell, Walla Walla Univ.


“Not A Dream” RT 1:05

Ryan Moore, Southern Adventist Univ.

ANIMATION ($250 Prize)

“Tezcatlipoca” RT 3:15

Robin George, Southern Adventist Univ.


“Last Breath” RT 14:10

Derek Taylor, Southern Adventist Univ. (Drama)




Southern Adventist University ($2000 per student)

Pacific Union College ($500 per student)

Southwestern Adventist University ($1500 per student)

Walla Walla University ($1500 per student)

“The Butler” RT 6:30

Chris Covell, Village Christian Schools (Comedy)

“Be Aware” RT 2:28

Andrew Lloren, Loma Linda Academy (Drama)

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