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Former Mountain View High student shows short films at CSMA

Photo Courtesy Of CmsaFormer Mountain View High School student Ekwa Msangi-Omari works on one of her short films, which will be featured in the 2011 Silicon Valley African Film Festival at the Community School of Music and Arts Oct. 15.

Tanzanian filmmaker Ekwa Msangi-Omari will revisit an old stomping ground when she travels to Mountain View from her current residence in Brooklyn to attend the 2011 Silicon Valley African Film Festival (SVAFF).

The writer/director/producer, a former Mountain View High School student, will be sitting in the audience at the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) film festival, when her short films, “Taharuki/Suspense” and “Weakness,” make their Northern California premieres.

Set against the backdrop of the start of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 that has left tens of thousands homeless, traumatized or dead, “Taharuki/Suspense” is the fictional account of a man and woman from opposing ethnic tribes working for an underground liberation movement to expose a child-trafficking cartel. When something goes terribly wrong, they are forced to make tough decisions to stay alive and complete their mission. Within 12 minutes, Msangi-Omaridi dramatically shows what happens when time is running out, lives are at stake and choices can change the course of history.

Even as a child, Msangi-Omari was drawn to films and stories, but she credits her career with taking root when she took her first film class as a teenager attending Mountain View High from January 1997 to May 1998. Born in Oakland, Msangi-Omari spent her early childhood in Palo Alto. Her parents, both Tanzanian Fulbright students, were studying at Stanford University in the 1980s but returned to East Africa when Msangi-Omari was 5. When she became a teenager, as a way of preparing her to attend college in the U.S., her parents sent her back to live with her two older brothers who were working and going to school in Silicon Valley.

“I knew that I wanted to go to film school, but I knew nothing about film, film school or the American educational system,” Msangi-Omari said. “Having a year at Mountain View High was great … and pivotal in preparing me to attend New York University, Tisch School of the Arts for Film/TV production.”

In fact, Msangi-Omari said she believes that she was the first Mountain View High student at the time to gain admission to the program. She cites her student involvement and broad experience at the high school – from taking a Global Connections class to organizing the school’s first multicultural day as part of the Black Students Union and Multicultural Committee – as instrumental in shaping her future.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in film/TV production at NYU, she earned a master’s degree in African Film at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

Since then, Msangi-Omari has directed, written and produced programs for TV shows in East Africa. She has also written for film and produced several shorts.

“Weakness,” which will be shown at the festival, has screened worldwide, including in New York, Durban and Brazil, and was nominated for a 2010 Kalasha Award and a 2011 African Movie Academy Award. Since 2010, she has been associate director in charge of development for The Independent Film School in New York City. She has also served since 2009 as Industry and Juror Coordinator for Tribeca All Access, a flagship program at the Tribeca Film Institute.

Although Msangi-Omari currently divides her time between Kenya and New York, attending the 2011 Silicon Valley African Film Festival will mark the first time she has returned to the Bay Area since leaving Mountain View with her brothers in the late 1990s.

“It’s a real joy for me to be coming back and to see how far the area has come in terms of representing and recognizing the African community in the Bay Area,” she said. “I am honored to be a part of the film festival.”

The 2011 Silicon Valley African Film Festival opens Oct. 14 at CSMA. The event, in its second year, shares the true stories, hopes and dreams of Africa through an African lens. The weekend will showcase more than 30 films – a mix of feature films, shorts and animation from Africa’s seasoned and emerging first-voice filmmakers – from various African nations, taking audiences of all ages across the continent.

Silicon Valley African Film Festival 2011

Oriki Theater in partnership with the Community School of Music and Arts is scheduled to present “Africa through African lens!” a showcase of more than 30 films from 13 countries Oct. 14-16 at the Community School of Music and Arts, Finn Center, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View.

Tickets are $5-$30 depending on ticket selection. One- and two-day passes are available with student/senior discounts. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets are sold at the door, as available. To purchase in advance, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/196533.

For more information and the screening schedule, visit www.svaff.org.

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