Sonoma International Film Fest sends 2 scholars to new SSU film program on full scholarships

“This scholarship will help me reach my goal of graduating from college, having a purpose after college and finally, pursuing a hobby that I am very passionate about,” said Sonoma Valley High School graduate Jacob Ceron Echeverria regarding the full-ride scholarship he received to attend the brand-new cinematic arts and technology program at Sonoma State University.|

Two recent Sonoma Valley High School graduates are now attending a brand-new filmmaking program at Sonoma State University after being awarded full-ride college scholarships by the Sonoma International Film Festival.

Jacob Ceron Echeverria and Sakcham “Sam” Mishra are the first students to be given the film festival’s Media Arts Scholarships to work toward a bachelor’s degree in the new cinematic arts and technology program at the university. They began attending classes this fall.

“I immediately and literally ran to my parents and told them the good news, and they were exhilarated as well,” Echeverria said. “This scholarship will help me reach my goal of graduating from college, having a purpose after college and finally, pursuing a hobby that I am very passionate about.”

Mishra learned that he was a scholarship recipient when Peter Hansen, the media arts teacher at Sonoma Valley High School, announced it in class.

“He said, ‘Congratulations, Sam. The scholarship is yours.’ My mouth was wide open — I was shocked but also very happy, and everybody clapped and congratulated me.”

Funding for the scholarship is being provided by the Sonoma International Film Festival, in partnership with the KHR Family Fund — Kevin and Rosemary McNeely’s family fund that helps to finance the film festival and many other nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad.

Starting in 2023, every year for four years, two qualified Sonoma Valley High School media arts students will be offered full-ride scholarships to Sonoma State University. This will include housing, meals, tuition and equipment, as long as they remain enrolled in the cinematic arts and technology program and adhere to scholarship guidelines.

The film festival has partnered with Hansen and Sonoma Valley High School’s media arts department, its primary annual funding initiative, for the past 21 years. Each year, deserving students received partial scholarships, with input and selection provided by delegates from the film festival and high school.

SVHS students also have had opportunities to present their films at the student showcase at Sebastiani Theatre during the five-day annual festival.

“Sonoma International Film Festival has provided funding for consistently upgrading equipment in the media arts department and continues to support Peter’s curriculum for both beginning and advanced students,” said McNeely, director emeritus of the film festival. “Creating this scholarship program is the next logical step in support of this program and these students.”

Ginny Krieger, executive director of the film festival, said Mishra and Echeverria were chosen for the scholarships because they demonstrated hard work, creativity and the desire to commit to go to college and attain filmmaking degrees.

Hansen said both students were in his media arts classes together, and worked collaboratively and creatively.

“Their work was always fresh, funny and appealed to the teen demographic,” Hansen said.

He said Mishra used his outstanding, unique vocal range in his work, which focused a lot on music videos.

“He sang and played instruments for his own original productions,” Hansen said. “Sam excelled at sound engineering his music and voice to sound professional, like something out of a Broadway musical.”

Hansen also worked closely with Ed Beebout, interim dean of the university’s School of Arts and Humanities, to write and navigate the logistics surrounding a private foundational grant.

“Peter Hansen has developed a wonderful video production program at Sonoma Valley High School,” Beebout said. “We love to give his students the opportunity to develop their skills at Sonoma State University. What’s more, because Peter’s students already have such a strong foundation, they have the potential to become real leaders in our cinematic arts and technology program and lift it up!

“Jacob and Sam seem like exceptional young men, and because of the skills they already acquired through their experiences at Sonoma Valley High, I have no doubt that they will become student leaders in the program over the next few years. I am looking forward to watching their progress.”

Mishra has been around cameras and media all his life because his mother, Nalina Chitrakar, is a prominent vocalist, having been voted Nepal’s top female pop singer in 1999 and 2005. He said this exposure — as well as the high school classes he took — enhanced his knowledge of filmmaking and he became passionate about it.

“I would love to be part of the filmmaking industry,” he said. “I would also like to do some professional videography while still in college. I just need to work hard and make myself, my family, Mr. Hansen and all those rooting for me proud.”

Echeverria became interested in filmmaking as a child while watching the work of content creators on the internet. He began creating vlogs, and then videos while taking Hansen’s classes at Sonoma Valley High School.

He said his scholarship to attend Sonoma State University is especially meaningful to him because his family immigrated to the United States and worked hard to provide a future for him.

“I have the luxury of having a roof over my head and being able to eat every day,” he said. “It’s something that we take for granted, but my family sacrificed so much for me. I now am showing them that their hard work and sacrifices paid off.

“I am Latino and the first generation in my family to go to a university. I had the option to go the easy route and just work hard and not expand my education, but I want to show my family that I am grateful. I worked hard to get into a university.”

Echeverria is working toward a double major in environmental science and cinematic arts and technology. His goal is to be an actor, director or producer for movies or YouTube videos. He also might want to combine his interests in film and environmental science by working for National Geographic.

Beebout said the McNeelys immediately perceived the two students’ potential.

“And because of (Kevin) McNeely’s long history with the Sonoma International Film Festival, we also recognized the value of a campus/community partnership with it, one that will hopefully grow in exciting ways over time,” he said.

The cinematic arts and technology program focuses on giving students a foundational understanding of the film and production industries as well as a strong emphasis on developing sets.

“We have an exceptional new video production studio/lab that was completed in 2020,” Beebout said. We also have a large inventory of state-of-the art film and video production equipment, thanks in large part to the generosity of Kevin and Rosemary McNeely.”

The degree program will be guided by Talena Sanders, an award-winning filmmaker who has a master of fine arts in film.

“At least three of our six permanent faculty in the communications and media studies department, where the cinematic arts degree program is housed, have the ability to teach a wide array of skills,” Beebout said.

Nearly 20 current students are planning on majoring in the program, and Beebout expects that number to grow.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at

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