AURORA | Hafsa Ali’s first meal in the U.S. was about as stereotypically American as it gets: McDonald’s french fries and a paper cup of crimson ketchup.
“We were just sitting there all huddled up together and this guy from Somalia (who) worked at the airport started speaking Somali and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys must be hungry,’” said Ali, a 17-year-old student at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy and Junior Staff at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts. “And he just went and came back, and then got us some fries and talked to my mom and stayed with my mom until we had to go to the airplane, and then come to Denver.”
That memorable first bite of food on U.S. soil happened at a New York airport about six years ago, which was when Ali, along with her 13-year-old sister, Halima, arrived in the country after spending seven years as refugees in Uganda. Born is Somalia, Hafsa fled her native country when she was 4 years old. The journey to Uganda was harrowing, and involved goats — lots of goats.
“The only way to escape was through a truck full of goats … I was four, but I don’t think I would have liked it now,” Hafsa said, chuckling. “And then we were in the truck for a long while and we went to Uganda.”
That tale of Somalian exodus is one of several featured in “Coming to America,” a film Hafsa and three of her peers at DAVA — Falastin Khalif, Nasra Hussein and Benita Deragli — created in about two weeks this summer at the annual Colorado Film School’s Film Camp for Kids. The program grants about two dozen DAVA students access to the CFS facilities on the nearby Community College of Aurora at Lowry campus every summer.
This year, the “Coming to America” crew was tabbed for a “silver key” award from the Colorado Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, joining two other films created by DAVA students in this year’s crop of winners.
Hafsa’s sister Halima, along with students Katherine Quiche and Melissa Caudillo, won an honorable mention for their short film “Finding Our Way Home,” and Marco Benitez won a “gold key” prize for his animation “Bob and the Eraser.” The gold key designation earns Benitez, an eighth-grader at the Denver School of Science and Technology’s Conservatory Green Middle School, a chance to win an additional national award later this year.
Selected from a pool of more than 5,000 submissions, several hundred students from across Colorado were named Scholastic Art and Writing Award winners this year in categories ranging from filmmaking to studio art to jewelry.
Many of the award winners will have their art displayed at galleries around the metro area, including at the History Colorado Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Denver Art Museum, through the end of March.
The DAVA student films will be shown at a red carpet premier Feb. 28 at the Sie Film Center in Denver. The premier, which runs for 50 minutes and starts at 7 p.m., will feature 28 films made by Colorado students in grades 7-12. Tickets are free.
Students from DAVA have had their films shown at the annual premier for several consecutive years, which is largely due to the partnership the local arts organization started with the Colorado Film School nearly a decade ago, according to Susan Jenson, executive director at DAVA.
She said the camp started about eight years ago, which was when she was first introduced to Geoffrey Chadwick, an associate professor at CFS, who has helped coordinate the camp — including personally driving the campers between the DAVA facility on Florence Street and the CCA campus — ever since.
“It’s been a really long and really successful partnership and it’s been driven by Geoffrey Chadwick, who has been an angel to us,” Jenson said.
The film camp, which culminates with an exhibition and premier at DAVA each fall, is typically one of the most popular programs of the year, according to Luzia Ornelas, program manager for DAVA’s job training and family arts programs, who helps the students put the finishing touches on their films.
“They really like the opportunity of working with film because they have the chance to tell stories, create and write,” Ornelas said.
The camp is only open to DAVA students in the nonprofit’s job training program, which is mainly comprised of middle-schoolers, although there are a few high-schoolers, too, Jenson said.
Chadwick said a few students from surrounding municipalities like Highlands Ranch typically participate the camp after hearing about it from friends or reltives, but about 75 percent of the campers come from DAVA.
“It’s a really great, diverse bunch of kids with different backgrounds and interests and different kinds of stories they want to tell,” he said.