Sonja Kelly

Filmmaker & Screenwriter

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Photographer Krystle Cansino captures the exhausted but happy faces of Surrender Heaven's cast and crew at the end of a long weekend.

Bio

Narrative filmmaker Sonja Kelly is a graduate of the production program at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

In 2013, her debut feature, a no-budget Shakespeare adaptation set in San Francisco, screened at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, the Indie Gathering International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival.

At IGIFF, LOVE: As You Like It won Best Supporting Actor (Sullivan Jones) and was nominated for Best Feature Film (Romantic Comedy). Several members of the cast went on to work on Broadway and shows like Insecure, Westworld, The Looming Tower, Chicago Med, The Gilded Age, Glow, and Our Flag Means Death.

In 2017, Sonja wrote, directed, and produced a micro-budget proof-of-concept short film in San Francisco that screened at the Festival de Cannes: Court M├ętrage (Short Film Corner) and received an award for Best Rising Action Star (Female/Short) (Teri Reeves) at a stunts film festival in Las Vegas as well as nominations for Best Action Short of the Year and Best Female Filmmaker.

In 2020, Sonja shot a no-budget short film with one actor and one crew member. This experimental film explores the psychological impact of sexual trauma. It was filmed during a six-hour shoot in the Mojave Desert, four days before lockdown began.

Sonja began her career as a Saturday morning intern to film critic Jan Wahl at San Francisco's KRON 4 News. She then joined the production teams of the San Francisco Giants and the Golden State Warriors as a video production intern before working her way up to camera utility, assistant, and operator.

Over several years, Sonja worked the commercial and sports circuit in the Bay Area as a camera utility and production assistant including jobs with Emmy award-winning cinematographer Scott Duncan. While working these production gigs, Sonja busked on the street as a musician, taught violin to students she found through Craigslist, and carried a full courseload as a video production student at College of Marin. In 2008, she transferred to the University of Southern California to finish her degree.

Sonja is proud to be the granddaughter of a farmer poet from rural Finland as well as a dual citizen of Ireland and the United States. As a neurodivergent queer woman with a dense trauma history, she brings a wealth of life experience to her writing, and aims to tell cinematic stories that reflect her fluid and unconventional worldview. She has studied with Mardik Martin of Mean Streets, Dr. Rob Clare of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Evgeniy Lazarev of the Moscow Art Theatre, and many others.

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