The SONscreen film festival was held at La Sierra University from April 2-4, 2015. The festival has been held annually since 2002, and was coordinated by Daniel Weber and Julio Muñoz from the North American Division Communication Department. One hundred and forty-five students and faculty in attendance represented many schools in the North American Division: participants from La Sierra University, Pacific Union College, Walla Walla University, Southern Adventist University, Spencerville Adventist Academy, Loma Linda Academy, Redlands Academy and Sacramento Adventist Academy were present. Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, also sent participants to the conference.
The festival included a few screenings of major productions, as well as 41 screenings of student productions. After each group of student production screenings, the students had the opportunity to receive feedback from other students as well as from the faculty and other professionals present. Nathan DeWild, Christoph Silber, and Jason Satterlund ran workshops for the students, providing them with invaluable expert advice on how to create effective projects.
In the words of Daniel Weber, Communication Director for the North American Division, the purpose of the festival is to “provide a place where young people can share their artistic talents in an environment where they are provided the freedom to use the creativity that God has blessed them with. Communicating via the visual medium is a very powerful tool and we want to help these students understand the power that the medium presents and how they can use it to reach people with stories that inspire, and promote critical thinking. We set the standards of the festival, sort of a blank canvas, and let the students explore their creativity as they ‘paint’ their stories within those boundaries.”
Service to God and humanity was a theme I heard repeated by many of the professionals present. Regarding success, students were exhorted to measure it not by financial gain or popularity, but by the people positively influenced through their productions. Regarding the difficulties of working in the industry, students were advised to let God be in control of their projects, and to maintain their faith in Him through the hard times and believe that His plan is best, especially when it does not seem to be working out at all. Regarding their work and ministries, students were enjoined to use their creative bent to serve God and do what He called them to do, whatever the consequences, and leave the results up to Him.
To anyone who has doubts that the medium of film can be used positively at all, I encourage you to purchase a copy of “Metamorphosis,” a production of Illustra Media. As you watch it, ask yourself whether or not the same information could have been as effectively and succinctly conveyed through the media of radio or print. Also ask yourself whether or not it dips into the sensationalism we have been warned about, and ultimately, whether or not God is glorified through the production. This issue is important: the screen, whether attached to a cell phone, a computer, or a cable box, has become the most powerful medium of communication in our society. While the vast majority of available content is designed to distract and destroy us, the negative effects of this content should not keep us from using the screen to share the good news of God’s love with the world. Ellen White encouraged us to scatter tracts “as the leaves of autumn.” While continuing our work in print publications, I think it’s time to think outside of the pamphlet. Fortunately, we do have good shows on the air, but there are many opportunities that we have not fully exploited. We need to produce quality, Christ-centered content for non-Christians that will present God and the Great Controversy correctly. We should aim for a broad audience, but even if all one does is start a YouTube channel, they can reach millions of people if the videos are good quality and the content is relevant.
To do this effectively as a church, we need to train people in the technical knowledge and artistic skill involved in producing attractive material. This is where SONscreen and the media programs at our SDA academies, colleges, and universities come in. It was greatly encouraging to see that students to whom God has entrusted the mission of reaching out through the visual media have a place to go—through SONscreen and our media programs, they can learn both the technical aspects of filmmaking and be mentored by professionals who can steer their creativity in a positive direction.