Will Papadin’s mordant short in Sonoma Film Festival

There are films from 27 countries represented at this week's Sonoma International Film Festival, but alongside the talent from Europe and South America and elsewhere, there are two filmmakers from Sonoma.

One is Owen Summers, still a student at SVHS in Peter Hansen's Media Arts Program. His Claymation short “Magic Beans” will be screened at the SIFF during the international Short Films program.

And there's William Papadin, whose “Sans réponse” is included in World Cinema Shorts. An American filmmaker screening in the World Cinema Shorts program is probably down to the film being in French. The black-and-white, subtitled movie evokes pretentious art films, and Papadin specifically cites as an influence the cool auteur cinema of Jean-Luc Godard. (And, less pretentiously, he also cites “Amelie.”)

But Papadin, 25, doesn't know French, and never studied it, which gives his short four-minute film its punchline. Yes, it's a comedy, but funny as the movie is – and it's a real LOL-sort-of funny – it is about grief.

As he tells us right off the bat, over coffee at Sonoma's Best, “I grew up here in Sonoma, attended Prestwood Elementary School, Adele Harrison Middle School, and graduated Sonoma Valley High School (class of 2010).” Despite that, Will Papadin hasn't lived all his life in Sonoma. There was that period when he was a student at San Francisco State University, studying for his degree in film studies. And there were the 42 days he lived in Los Angeles, working as a production assistant on a little-known TV series.

But it's not as if he hasn't traveled. He went to Europe last year, and was enchanted by Copenhagen, and would like to go back to Scandinavia, though, he quips, “I crave to go somewhere colder and more in the wilderness.” So a trip to Norway is on his bucket list.

But there was one trip Papadin didn't expect to make so soon, or under such sad circumstances.

Last August, he and two brothers drove to Abilene, Texas, to identify the body of their father and make arrangements.

Valentin Papadin was born in Siberia, fled Russia during the Cold War, making his way to England where he met his wife, Nella Martin. Then they traveled to Italy and California.

They had seven children, of which Will is the middle child. (“Can't you tell?” he asks.) In Sonoma, the elder Papadin made a reputation as a sign-painter, but he was also known as a poet, who had written a memoir about escaping the Red Army by feigning insanity.

The couple divorced years ago, but remained good friends and the family stayed close. But a couple years ago, Valentin got restless and decided to head back to Italy.

He made it as far as Abilene, where he settled for a few months and quickly became a well-liked figure, involved in the Boys & Girls Club and had started a chess club. It all ended suddenly when he was thrown from his bicycle during a nighttime accident, struck from behind by a pickup truck.

The death hit the family hard. Will moved back to Sonoma from L.A., and set up quarters in his mother's living room. Struggling through the slow months of loss, he got a job as a server at the Glen Ellen Star, worked on screenplays in the morning at Crisp Bake Shop, and – during the week this winter when the Star was closed for a remodel – he made another film.

“Sans réponse” was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II, a DSLR that has become a popular digital video camera. Aaron Ware, who he met at film school, was the cinematographer – the two have made several other films together, including last year's “Pulp Free” which also screened at the SIFF.

It was made, start to finish, during the week this winter when the Glen Ellen Star was closed for remodeling: scripted, story-boarded, shot and edited. Sonomans will recognize its scenes: the Glen Ellen Star, Crisp, a bridge over Sonoma Creek, the Starling. At the Starling he shares a drink with his childhood friend Luke Salmas; the short is narrated by Nicole Fessy Hummer, a friend of his father's who Papadin has known all his life.

Papadin submitted it immediately to SIFF (with the $50 entry fee), and within hours he got a call from Kevin McNeely, who said he'd find a place for it. “All the cool Sonoma locations are featured in ‘Sans réponse,'” said McNeely enthusiastically. “We take care of our Sonoma filmmakers!”

The title means “Without Answer,” which is how the short is listed in the SIFF catalog on the World Cinema program.

“I'm really proud of this film,” said Papadin. “It's as honest as I can be.” Though visually similar to some of his other short films, and resonant of their self-reflective obsessions and humor, it is a leap forward.

And despite its hermetic mise-en-scène (a phrase we're sure Papadin will appreciate), it rises above its predecessors among Papadin's work, and one gets the feeling it might represent a breakthrough for the aspiring filmmaker.

Papadin is also taking “Sans réponse” to Cannes in May, after which he plans to go to Norway, a cold and desolate land that might seem like a good idea to a young man in mourning but…

We're betting he'll be back.

Contact Christian at

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