PCC’s gem, Cascade Festival of African Films, starts 28th year on Feb. 2
The worldview of many Americans is shaped in large part by what they see on the evening news — but the news can be an imperfect lens that provides an incomplete picture of peoples, events, and cultures. And too often, where the nations of Africa are concerned, the picture is even less complete.
In Portland, though, there is a remedy — the Cascade Festival of African Films (CFAF). Now in its 28th year, the festival offers audiences the rare and edifying opportunity to see Africa through the lenses of its own people. As always, the festival is free and open to the public.
The film festival features an exciting slate of new films, 25 in total, from across the African continent. The longest-running African film festival in the United States draws in excess of 4,000 attendees each year, and has become a fixture of Portland’s cultural calendar.
This year’s festival opens with back-to-back screenings of “’76” (Nigeria, 2016), with visiting Nigerian director Izu Ojukwu in attendance. “’76” is a political thriller and love story — inspired by true events — set against the backdrop of an attempted 1976 military coup. It will show twice at the festival’s opening-night gala at 6 and 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 2, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Each screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director, and to cap off the opening night gala in style, a ’70s-style Afrobeat dance party will follow the second screening of “’76,” starting at 11:30 p.m.
“’76” sets the tone for a vibrant CFAF calendar, which showcases more than two dozen feature, documentary, and short films throughout the month of February. Most CFAF screenings take place at the Moriarty Auditorium at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth St. Each Saturday the screening is preceded by the popular “Saturday Social Hour,” starting at 5 p.m., and features live music, food, and an African marketplace.
Seventeen nations from across the African continent are represented in this year’s lineup. This year’s centerpiece film is “A Season in France,” a 2017 French-Chadian co-production about a high school teacher who flees the war-torn Central African Republic for France.
“Our centerpiece film is one of many this year that bring understanding and empathy to immigrant and refugee stories around the world, whether they are fleeing war, political persecution, or just searching for a better life,” said festival coordinator Tracy Francis.
Other films with an immigrant or refugee lens include the family friendly film “A Stray” about the struggles of a young Somalian boy in the U.S. who befriends a stray dog, or “Zainab Hates the Snow” which follows a Tunisian family’s journey for five years as they immigrate to Canada.
The Cascade Festival of African Films’ acclaimed Thursday Night Documentary Series kicks off Feb. 8, with a special appearance by comedian Bassem Yussef — described as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart” — who will hold a Q&A and book signing after the screening of “Tickling Giants” (USA/Egypt, 2016). This is the documentary about how Dr. Youssef, a heart surgeon, became the host of “Al Bernameg” — Egypt’s first political satire TV show. The series became the most watched show in the Middle East before its cancellation due to censorship and his subsequent exile.
New to the festival will be the participation of PCC students who were either born in Africa or who have immigrated to the United States. The students will be paired with films from their country of origin, and will take part in post-screening discussions about the films and about the culture of and conditions in their native countries.
“We are excited to find ways to connect students to the festival and to give them a platform to teach others about their countries and cultures,” said Francis.
Returning to the festival this year will be staged readings of original plays by African writers featuring local actors. A highlight of the series is the play “Her Portmanteau,” by Mfoniso Udofia, which recently had its off-Broadway premiere in New York and follows the struggles of a family of Nigerian immigrant women in the United States. The readings are scheduled for 2 p.m. on two successive Saturdays, Feb. 10 and 17.
Film Festival Highlights
Opening Night at Hollywood Theatre — The festival opens on Friday, Feb. 2, with two screenings of “’76” (Nigeria) at 6 and 9 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre and visiting director Izu Ojukwu in attendance. A special ’70s-themed Afrobeat dance party will follow.
Student Fest Matinee — Timed to fit into the busy schedules of PCC students, the matinee features a free pre-film pizza party with the showing of two short films: “Coz of Moni 1” and “Coz of Moni 2” (Ghana, 2011 and 2013). The films follow the misadventures of a pair of young men as they embark on an evening of clubbing and partying.
Family Fest Matinee — CFAF’s annual family-friendly matinee showcases a film that may be familiar to American audiences: “Queen of Katwe” (Uganda/USA, 2016), hosted by master storyteller Baba Wagué Diakité of Mali. The film tells the tale of a poor girl from the slums of Kampala, Uganda, who rises to be a top chess player. “Queen of Katwe” shows at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Moriarty Auditorium.
Women Filmmakers Week — An annual film festival tradition, Women Filmmakers Week showcases female-directed films during the festival’s closing week, March 1-3, in the Moriarty Auditorium.
Saturday Social Hours — Starting at 5 p.m. each Saturday during the CFAF at the Moriarty Auditorium, featuring an African market, food, and live music.