Every culture creates film that says something about itself. So, aside from the general entertainment value of film viewing, attending a film festival is usually a learning experience.
Every culture creates film that says something about itself. So, aside from the general entertainment value of film viewing, attending a film festival is usually a learning experience. However, African films are in a class of their own since the experience of life in Africa is so uniquely different from our own.
Unlike watching a film from, say, Sweden or New Zealand, an Ethiopian or Namibian film will usually require a broader understanding of life outside Western culture and a willingness to delve into the mind of a filmmaker who doesn’t think in terms of lattes, video games and pizza.
This is why I love African film. Every film that I watch serves as a reminder that my own problems are miniscule in comparison to people who live through war, famine and oppression.
Currently, Portland is being treated to the 19th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films. Some of you may have missed the early parts of this amazing combination of offerings due to this year’s overlap with the Portland International Film Festival, but there is still time to catch several excellent feature films and documentaries.
My favorite by far is Africa Paradis (Benin, France, 2007), an African take on alternate reality. What would happen if in 50 years Africa became the utopian paradise we all dream about and everyone wanted to emigrate there? Being illegal takes on a whole different meaning in this often hilarious, sometimes tragic look at what constitutes normal life for most of us.
But in addition to this festival celebrating Black History Month, it also acknowledges Women’s History Month by closing the festival with a nod to African women filmmakers. This year we’ll see such documentaries as Iron Ladies of Liberia (Liberia, 2007), which documents the first year of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency.
Sirleaf is not only the first female president of Liberia, but she has compiled a team of strong women to take key positions in her new government. This is a remarkable documentary from a country that has, as a cabinet position, a minister of gender, which to me says everything about how the former government worked.
Another film that shouldn’t be missed during the final weekend is Meteni The Lost One (Ethiopia, 2002). Sick and pregnant, a young Afar wife and mother tries to keep up with the grueling workload required by her husband, including moving their herds through northeastern Ethiopia, until tragedy strikes. In only 30 minutes, this film sums up what life is like for far too many African women.
The most unique part of this film festival is that following each screening filmmakers, actors and scholars of African diaspora are on hand to discuss issues raised in the films. The addition of the lecturers only make the films doubly worth watching.
Prior films have included Bopha! (Morgan Freeman, 2002) and Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 2005), both wonderfully heartfelt films. Feature films show on Friday and Saturday nights and documentaries can be seen on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. All CFAF films are free and open to the public.
And just in case you don’t get enough African film in your diet in the last two weekends of the festival, PCC Cascade has also collected over 200 African videos and DVDs that are available to the public at no charge. Stop by the library while you’re there and check out a few. It’s well worth it to expose yourself to a fascinating culture through an interesting medium.