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Cascade Festival of African Films celebrates 26th year
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
This February, the Cascade Festival of African Films will embark on its 26th year with an exciting slate of new films from across the African continent. The longest-running African film festival in the United States offers Portlanders a rare opportunity to see Africa through the eyes of Africans.
This year’s festival opens with back-to-back screenings of “The Rooftops,” a series of interlocking tales from Merzak Allouache, Algeria’s preeminent filmmaker. Allouache himself will be on hand to introduce and discuss his film, which is the focus of the festival’s opening-night gala on Friday, Feb. 5, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. “The Rooftops” will show twice during the evening, at 6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
“The Rooftops” kicks off the busy festival, which will feature 18 films, throughout the month of February. The annual event, which is free and open to the public, runs from Friday, Feb. 5 through Saturday, March 5 and shows films ranging from full-length features to documentaries and short films. More than 5,000 people attend the festival each year. Most screenings take place at the Moriarty Auditorium at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, 735 N. Killingsworth St.
For complete screening information, visit www.africanfilmfestival.org.
Audiences will also have the opportunity to meet director Yared Zaleke, who was recently named as one of Varieties’ “Top 10 Screenwriters to Watch” after his film “Lamb,” was selected for Cannes, the first-ever Ethiopian work to be selected for the festival. The film will be shown at noon, Feb. 25 and 7 p.m., Feb. 26 at the Moriarty Auditorium.
This year’s films hail from 11 African countries: Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and Ethiopia. In addition to welcoming Merzak Allouache and Yared Zaleke in person, Portland audiences will have the chance to connect across continents through online video discussions with select directors in Africa following the screenings.
“I am very excited to be joining the festival this year as its new coordinator, and to expand the dialogue around Africa through such a diverse offering of films that would not be otherwise accessible to Portland audiences,” said Tracy Francis, the new coordinator of the film festival.
In a time when most news stories about Africa fixate on war, famine, disease and corruption, the Cascade Festival of African Films presents a clear-eyed, authentic view of African life in its many diverse forms, Francis said. This year the festival will examine LGBTQ issues in Kenya with “Stories of our Lives” (Kenya, 2014); gender issues in South Africa with a series of women-directed shorts; poverty in Ethiopia with the heartwarming story “Lamb” (Ethiopia, 2015); and love in the romantic comedy “Flower Girl” (Nigeria, 2013). Most feature films are not suitable for children, with the exceptions of “Kirikou and the Men and Women” (France/West Africa, 2012), showing on Feb. 27; and “Lamb” (Ethiopia, 2015), showing on Feb. 25 and 26.
A longtime fixture of the film festival is its Thursday evening documentary film series. This year’s documentary series, “The Power of Music and the Arts,” offers a chance to witness how the arts can be a powerful force for social change and expression through films from Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan, and Morocco.
Film Festival Highlights:
Opening Night at Hollywood Theatre – The festival opens on Friday, Feb. 5, with two screenings of “The Rooftops” (Algeria/France, 2013) at 6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre. Directed by celebrated Algerian director Merzak Allouache, this 2013 film is remarkable for its complex, overlapping story structure, its incisive critique of economic and social issues in Algeria, and its loving depiction of the ancient city of Algiers. Allouache will be present at both screenings to introduce and discuss the film.
Centerpiece Film – This year’s centerpiece film is “Run” (Ivory Coast, 2014), a stunning feature debut from director Philippe Lacôte. The film depicts the tumultuous recent history of Ivory Coast through the eyes of its protagonist, Run, who explains, “As life changes, I flee.” “Run” will show at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, at the Hollywood Theatre and will be followed by a live Skype discussion with the director.
Family Fest Matinee – The film festival’s annual family-friendly matinee will feature “Kirikou and the Men and Women” (France/West Africa, 2012), accompanied by tales from master storyteller Baba Wagué Diakité of Mali. The film will show at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27 in the Moriarty Auditorium.
Women Filmmakers Week – An annual tradition, Women Filmmakers Week showcases female-directed films during the festival’s closing week of March 3-5 in the Moriarty Auditorium.
Power of Music and the Arts – Thursday night documentary series investigating arts and social transformation.
Saturday Social Hours – These fun get-togethers are from 6-7 p.m. each Saturday during the festival at the Moriarty Auditorium. They feature an African market, food trucks, and live music.