There are things that school can’t teach us. As vital as education was in Rajeev Sigamoney’s Film career, he finds in visual story telling important lessons that cannot be found in a classroom. “We go to school to learn how to do math or understand how things work, but no one really teaches us there, what to do when somebody bullies us or how you’re supposed to respond to falling in love,” he said. The Assistant Professor of Film and Television Production at Pacific Union College says “good entertainment helps us understand those parts of life that are equally important but aren’t taught by traditional education.”
As a little boy growing up in Maryland, screen entertainment became a big part of Sigamoney’s life. “Films and TV helped me comprehend what it meant to be American, I was sitting at home watching the ‘Cosby Show’ and the ‘Wonder Years’… and I understood [that I was] learning a lot about life.”
Sigamoney has years of experience in the industry writing screenplays, directing theater and producing TV and web series, and equally lengthy portfolio of work within the Adventist denomination. His creative work (see his IMDB page) includes producing the web series “Jesus People” that reached half a million hits on YouTube; creating the dramatic web series “The Record Keeper” (a project sponsored by the General Conference, that soon after its completion the GC decided not to release); and co-producing the independent film “Old Fashioned,” which hit theaters the same weekend as Fifty Shades of Grey.
Although Sigamoney’s passion for film and theater started at an early age, he began his university studies in a very different field. He first earned a degree in Engineering from John Hopkins University followed by a master's degree in Management. He says he made more money in his first three years as an engineer than he did in ten years as a filmmaker. But as he looks back at his decision, he says he felt a peace and joy that made it all worth it.
Sigamoney always felt like he was called to tell stories and be creative. His first experience directing came at a small Southern Asian Seventh-day Adventist church in Redlands where he was asked to create a skit for a Saturday night vespers. Talking about that experience, he laughed and said, “If I saw it now, I would probably shriek, but at the moment it came out exactly how I had envisioned it.” Sigamoney went from sketches to directing longer acts for young adults. After several years of involvement in the church he took an associate pastoral position at a church in Laguna Beach, California.
In 2012 Sigamoney joined the Film and Television program at PUC. In his role there, he guides film students in the direction they want to go, working with students through the challenges careers in visual media can pose, and sharing his wealth of experience as a professional. Sigamoney says he loves the way the Film and Television program fosters community—a spiritual retreat for the Visual Arts Department serves as one example of community-building activities that PUC provides.
If the film and television industries today are tough fields to break into, the Seventh-day Adventist Church can at times create a different set of challenges.
“Our artists are the most alienated, not just in the church but in the world in general. Just being able to create a space for them, to speak their language… they are all so passionate but they have been told in a lot of instances, by their families, their communities and even their church, that what they are saying is not of God,” Sigamoney says. From his perspective, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Recent PUC film grad Edgar Momplaisir tends to agree. In an interview for this story, Momplaisir said, "I feel as if film requires a certain level of vulnerability and honesty that most people in the Adventist Church aren’t exactly ready for. It also requires a fresh perspective and a willingness to not just take things at value." (See also, "Edgar Momplaisir Talks PUC Film, Visual Storytelling, and Adventism.")
Sigamoney feels there is an education process the church needs to go through to make good use of sources like film and television. “Entertainment may be having a negative impact in our society, but that doesn’t mean that the medium as a whole is invalid,” he says.
“We have a need to stay connected to [technology] but we have a lack of understanding on how to use this medium and how to use it well.” Sigamoney believes that the ability that story telling has to connect to a large group of people can be very powerful. “Having worked in ministry in Southern California, I’ve seen many forms of evangelism that are failing [but] that we keep doing over and over again, because we are scared to fail by doing something new.” When it comes to spreading the message, Sigamoney believes media like documentary films could have a much larger impact for telling Adventism's story.
If the way Adventists tell their story is going to change in a substantive way, people like Sigamoney who can teach in a classroom setting and serve as real-world role models for the filmmakers of tomorrow are indespensible.
Andre Lloren is one of the students that Sigamoney is working with closely. A senior in Film and Television major at PUC, Lloren is leaning towards narrative shorts and documentary film, and thinks he might like to become a film editor some day.
“I’ve been working on a documentary film project where I was been able to travel out of the country for. Being on my own has taught me to be independent and look out for the story. It has also taught me to be patient and flexible, things never work out perfectly the way you want them too - but usually it’s for the best,” he added. For Lloren Film has given him a sense of responsibility, “[it has made me] mindful of the things we do and how our actions can affect our society,” he said. Lloren concluded that being part of the Film program at PUC has given him a solid foundation from which he can grow from. “It’s like family out here, the professors nurture an atmosphere of creativity and openness; a community where I can bring my ideas and not be worried about it getting ignored.”
This article is part of a series on film programs in Adventist higher education. See also: "La Sierra's Film Prgram Trains the Next Generation of Adventist Storytellers," and Documentary Film at Andrews University Brings Social Consciousness to Adventism."
Brenda Delfino is a student intern for SpectrumMagazine.org and a English Major (writing emphasis) at La Sierra University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6728