Eritrean West High grad makes big screen debut

Eritrean West High grad makes big screen debut High grad

by Anumita Kaur
Aug 09, 2013
Sephora Woldu

Sephora Woldu (right) preps musicians for a scene shot in March with a food truck in her film “Impresa!” 

Sephora Woldu’s silent film is making a lot of noise.


The 2007 West High graduate wrote, directed and starred in her film, “Impresa!” — which was named Best of the Bay at the 2013 San Francisco Black Film Festival in June and received an honorable mention from the Berlin Black Film Festival in May.

“Everything at this point is icing on the cake,” Woldu said. “Just filming the movie was a success.”

Woldu said the film’s main character, whom she portrayed, starts her own untraditional business as an art gallery owner.

The film features real San Francisco businesses, with Woldu going from one to the next gathering advice.

“It’s exploring the idea of being your own boss and starting your own business,” she said.

After graduating West High in 2007, Woldu moved to San Francisco, where she found the inspiration for her film.

Woldu wanted to document the East African culture of Eritrea, of which she is a descendant. Woldu felt that recording dialogue in either English or Tigrinya, the language of Eritrea, seemed wrong and inconclusive, so she decided a silent film with subtitles in both fulfilled her goal.

“My inspiration was people who are around me in San Francisco that look like me,” she said. “I wanted to create a film that would preserve the San Francisco I see — preserve the small Eritrean culture in San Francisco.”

Her hope to convey the Eritrean culture is rooted in a desire to understand her own family’s history.

“My parents are Eritrean, and I haven’t had the chance to go back,” she said. “I’ve been absorbing the culture to the best of my ability while consciously living outside of it and trying to represent both worlds.”

Along with trying to preserve and represent her culture through the film, Woldu also aimed to redefine the conventional idea of success.

“It’s about people being more open to different ideas of success,” she said. “The conversation you have with your family — ‘I’m going into art’ — that’s a story.”

Since the premiere of the film in San Francisco, Woldu has submitted the film to festivals all over the world.

There have been five screenings so far in various San Francisco venues, including festivals, museums, community centers and art warehouses.

“No matter where the movie goes, I feel an incredible sense of happiness and pride,” Woldu said.

The California Historical Society in San Francisco, 678 Jessie St., is hosting the next two showings of the film at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15.

“We’re showing anywhere there’s a white wall,” Woldu said. “We’re coming to a wall near you.”

Attendance is free, and visitors must RSVP at, or call the California Historical Society at 415-357-1848. This is the last showing before the film appears in September at the Montreal International Black Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.