30 Sonoma High student films on tap for film festival

“There are 30 films, all unique and special,” said Sonoma Valley High School teacher Peter Hansen, who founded the school’s video program in 2002. “However, a few are beyond anything ever produced in my 22 years. The artful use of lighting, voice over, camera and lens — combined with courageous attempts at acting — make this year special. There are more acting roles than ever before.”|

The works of Sonoma Valley High School media students will be on display at the Sonoma International Film Festival again this year, and their teacher is enthusiastic about their quality.

“There are 30 films, all unique and special,” said teacher Peter Hansen, who founded the school’s video program in 2002. “However, a few are beyond anything ever produced in my 22 years. The artful use of lighting, voice over, camera and lens — combined with courageous attempts at acting — make this year special. There are more acting roles than ever before.”

The films will be shown on Tuesday, March 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma. The most complex and original films will screen from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The showcase is open to the public free of charge.

“It is primarily a showcase for students who put in the effort, showed up for weekend workshops and stayed with it for two months,” Hansen said. “It is a field trip for 150 students, all who participated in some way in the filmmaking process or are students of drama or film critics, for example.”

Student filmmakers chose their subject matter, genre and style. The films are made individually or collaboratively.

“Art cannot be constrained,” Hansen said. “It is deeply personal and often cathartic for the students at Sonoma Valley High School media arts.”

Hansen said that the wide variety of films will keep the showcase fresh this year. Subjects include a documentary on the power of dogs as companions, claymation, music videos, drama, comedy, self-reflection and personal relationships. In most of them, themes of moving on, coming of age and fears of embracing life beyond high school emerge.

He said that providing the student showcase at the film festival not only encourages career aspirations in the film industry, but also displays the students’ months of hard work.

“It’s their ‘quarterback moment,’ and the cheers and glory are all theirs before hundreds of fans,” he said. “Film festivals worldwide have a mission to promote and provide a platform for passionate new filmmakers. Screening at a film festival is a rite of passage for any future filmmaker.”

Kevin McNeely, longtime director of the film festival who now is director emeritus, added, “It is always SRO in the Sebastiani Theatre and the filmmakers are cheered on by their fellow students. It’s a great, exciting atmosphere.”

The works of several Sonoma Valley High School film students have subsequently been presented in the main Sonoma International Film Festival. They include Owen Summers’ claymation film, “Magic Beans,” and Michael Lee’s “The D.D.,” a film about a designated driver for failed in his responsibility, which won the Audience Choice Award.

“Often, participating filmmakers from the Sonoma Valley International Film Festival will come to the student show and offer critiques to students after seeing their films,” Hansen said. “Primarily, knowing that their art will be screening publicly in such a large venue as Sebastiani motivates them to produce outstanding films and provides an unparalleled sense of accomplishment for such a young age.”

McNeely noted that Hansen’s classes have provided a springboard for many students.

“They subsequently have gone to colleges and universities that specialize in filmmaking and after graduating, work for Disney/Pixar, National Geographic, MTV, Hollywood studios and/or start their own production companies,” he said. “This is important and gratifying to the Sonoma International Film Festival.”

Hansen commended the Sonoma Valley community for rising to the occasion to make this a special day for youths.

“Red Grape Pizza donates pizzas for their lunch, Homegrown Bagels fuels them in the morning, Roger Rhoten and Tony Ginesi of Sebastiani Theatre open their doors and heart for them and the Sonoma International Film Festival and the Sonoma Valley Education once again sponsors the event with awards, scholarships and funding,” he said. “The students simply show up knowing they are loved, honored and special.

An abbreviated version of the student film showcase will be held at Sebastiani Theatre on a weekend in late April or early May.

“This allows families and friends to celebrate the students, accompanied by a Q&A with filmmakers afterward and a reception in the Plaza,” Hansen said. “It is a more relaxed show with a deeper community connection outside of the busy Sonoma International Film Festival schedule.”

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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