By Mwende Nguti

Ekwa Msangi-Omari [Photo Credit: Danielle Jackson]

The Africa First film program, sponsored by Focus Features has announced the five winning filmmakers for 2012.  These five emerging African filmmakers will receive $10,000 (ten thousand U.S. dollars) as well as the opportunity to attend a summit in New York City with other filmmakers and Africa First’s remarkable team of mentors.

One of the winning filmmakers is Tanzanian Ekwa Msangi-Omari, whose winning project is Soko (The Market), which centers around a father/daughter outing to a Kenyan market that takes unexpected turns. Ekwa, a writer, director and producer, has directed films which have been official selections at festivals such as New York African, Pan African International Film Festivals, among others. She also co-created NTV’s Higher Learning.

We got a chance to talk to her on her career and her award.   

Wamathai: How do most people first react when you tell them you’re a film director?

Ekwa: It depends. If they’re strangers, they’re surprised, intrigued, and then usually follow up with a story idea, career advice, and/or wanting to know what my latest blockbuster was. If they knew me, the idea seems to make sense; they’re excited by it, and then follow up with a story idea, career advice and/or wanting to know what my latest blockbuster was!

 

Wamathai: How did you get into directing?

Ekwa:  I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker from an early age. I studied directing for film and television at New York University and earned a Master’s degree in African Cinema. I continue to practice and hone my skills so as to better understand the craft.

Wamathai: What does winning the 10,000 dollars mean to you?

Ekwa: Well it’s always an honor to have your work and efforts recognized, and by such a highly regarded establishment as Focus Features. I’m obliged to deliver something worthwhile but I’m confident that my team and I can pull that part off!

Wamathai: The film Soko is based in Kenya and yet you are by nationality, from Tanzania. Why is that?

Ekwa: I grew up in Kenya so a lot of my stories are set here. My family moved to Nairobi in the 60s during the first East African Union when the school of arts and design for the region was based at Nairobi University so I’m more familiar with Kenyan culture than I am with Tanzanian culture!

Wamathai: What is “Soko” about?

Ekwa:  Soko is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a middle class Kenyan man who must take his young daughter to the market to get her hair braided, and the drama that ensues when their trip takes unexpected turns. It will be filmed in Nairobi.

Wamathai: What would you consider your greatest professional achievement?

Ekwa:  A few years ago I created and directed a television drama for MNET, and despite the difficulties faced, it was an invaluable experience for me. I don’t think I’d say that the show was my greatest achievement – perhaps my career is too young to really answer that question yet – but it was a major pillar in my journey.

Wamathai: Apart from Soko what else are you working on?

My team and I have been developing a feature film entitled Sweet Justice. It is a murder mystery that’s set in Nairobi, and is a sequel to a short film that I wrote and directed last year entitled Taharuki.  We’re currently preparing to take the project to Spain where we’ve been selected to pitch at the Africa Produce Film Market at this year’s Festival de Ciné Africano de Córdoba.

 

Wamathai: What in your opinion is the greatest challenge in the film industry in Africa?

Ekwa: I would say isolation is our greatest challenge. Working in isolation is wasting our time, potential and resources. In order to take what we’ve each individually figured out to the next level, we need to start pooling our resources and thinking regionally, if not continentally, about our work. It is in our working together that we can encourage investment and patronage of our work amongst our strongest audience: OURSELVES.  I’m not worried; throughout history artists have been the ones to take the risky steps, pave a new path and lead the revolution and have the rest follow us so…twende kazi!

Wamathai: What is the future of Kenyan TV and film?

Ekwa: I think it’s clear that Kenyan film and television is well on its way! Our casts and crews are extremely talented. It’s also important to note that we have probably the largest number of women working as writers, producers and directors in our industry than…any other industry in the world that I know of! There’s something very forward thinking and hopeful about that.  A Kenyan filmmaker can’t afford to only target a Kenyan audience – our ideas and potential have passed that point. And that’s the very good news!