Mountain View Voice

News - October 22, 2010

Out of Africa

African film festival aims to show audiences a new side of the continent

by Nick Veronin

When the West hears about Africa, the news is often bad: bloodthirsty guerillas, genocide, starvation, disease. It's either that, Chike C. Nwoffiah says, or the cameras funnel images of tribal people digging with sticks, barefoot, living as their ancestors have for millennia — framing the continent as one giant anthropological study in antiquity.

That is not the story attendees of the first-ever Silicon Valley African Film Festival will hear, Nwoffiah says.

"All of that stuff is still Africa. No one is disputing it. The only thing we are trying to say is that is not the only Africa," he says.

The festival, which runs this weekend, Oct. 23 and 24, at the Community School of Music and Arts is co-hosted by Nwoffiah's own Oriki Theater. The festival will show 30 films from 16 African countries. Nwoffiah says he hopes the films will give audiences a "better understanding of Africa and its people."

Nwoffiah, a native Nigerian who has been living on the Peninsula for 22 years, says he is constantly explaining Africa to others and is often surprised by how little people understand about his homeland.

"There's this sense of this monolithic Africa," says Nwoffiah, an actor and filmmaker who also teaches African history at Menlo College. He says some of his first-time students enter his class thinking Africa is a country.

For some time now, Nwoffiah says, he has been frustrated by how Africa is portrayed in film and throughout the media. "I think there is a need for us to do something," he says.

Through the film festival, which is open to all ages and will show feature-length films, shorts and animation, Nwoffiah hopes audiences will get a much more accurate cross-section of Africa than they may have been exposed to in the past. The films come from all over the continent, he says.

"You're talking about almost a billion people with a multiplicity of languages and cultures and religious beliefs," he says.

CSMA is proud to host the event, says spokeswoman Evy Schiffman.

"Film is certainly one of the most powerful ways that people can be educated about the world and multiculturalism," Schiffman says.

Members of the Mountain View City Council will attend and the city is commemorating the event by declaring it to be "Silicon Valley African Film Festival Weekend."

The non-profit Oriki Theater melds performance, dance, music and art with educational programs aimed at teaching students and others in the community about African culture. Nwoffiah founded Oriki in 1992.

Through trips to local classrooms, stage productions and events like this weekend's film festival, Nwoffiah aims "to tell the story of the hopes and dreams of Africa and to bring the voice of Africa to the people of Silicon Valley."

So far, he says, "the response has been overwhelming."

The festival will open Saturday at 11 a.m. with a "Parade of Nations," which will showcase native dress, flags, African music and drumming. Films will be screened in the Finn Center of the Community School, located at 230 San Antonio Circle in Mountain View. Tickets range from $5 to $30.

More information can be found at www.svaff.org or by calling 415-774-6787.

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