African film enriches Portland community

More than 400 people gathered at Portland Community College Cascade Campus auditorium on Feb. 26 for the viewing of “Lamb.” A film featured as part of the Cascade Festival of African Films.

The auditorium was packed with students, families and friends, from the Portland community. With the need for extra space, some had to be turned away from the showing. Once the lights dimmed, even the chattering of excited children fell into a unified silence. A sense of intense focus was palpable in the air as the film started rolling.

“I’ve been going to the film festival for about seven years now. I find different and fresh perspectives every time,” shared Amen Mengistu who came with her family.

As suggested by its title, the film is a “coming-of-age” story about a boy and his lamb. The screen was filled with bright lush colors of Bale Mountains in Ethiopia–the country the film was shot in. Such rich colors of greenery from Africa are not so often seen by an American audience. “Lamb” touches upon issues of politics, history, environment, religion, cultural misrepresentation, and fundamental basis of human identity.

Ephraim is a young Ethiopian boy who is left under the care of his relatives when his father is forced to leave him after his mother died. A boy with a slender figure and a pair of bright yellow boots, Ephraim is not built for farm work, to his uncle’s’ disappointment; he enjoys cooking instead. When his unhappy uncle tries to sacrifice his pet lamb for the next religious feast, Ephraim embarks on new adventures to save his only friend.

“It was beautiful. It’s combination of a region and culture I’m unfamiliar with [yet,] the people and interactions are perfectly familiar,” commented an attendee who chose to remain anonymous.

It seems that the film left many with a need for discussion. The majority of the audience remained after the film to participate in the Q&A session with the film’s Ethiopian director, Yared Zeleke.

Zeleke is a young filmmaker who was born in Ethiopia. He lived through the infamous Ethiopian famine in the ’80s and like the boy in his film, had to make his way alone to the United States as a child. Before studying cinema at New York University—majoring in writing and directing—Zelek pursued a degree in international development from Clark University. He worked with a number of nonprofit organizations across the globe before starting a career in film. “Lamb” was his first feature-length movie and it was screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. “It is the first film from Ethiopia to have been officially selected in the festival’s 68-year history.”

Zeleke has been studying film for 10 years. After growing up around his grandmother’s stories, he fell in love with it himself. Zeleke chose film as his medium due to it’s ability to reach so many people, “I’ve made a film that was featured in 57 festivals and sold to 30 territories including China. It’s a dream come true.”

A strong advocate for the arts, Zeleke shared his insight on why it can make such a difference in any community, “No matter how different we are, at the core [art is] a shared human experience.” He said, “It does make a difference to show the variety of faces and experiences because then you add to an understanding and make the world a better place…art is not necessarily a political act, but it has a political outcome.”

If there was nothing else Zeleke wanted his audience to take away, it was inspiration, “I encourage anyone to pursue what you want and tell us the story that you want.”