5 Reasons You Can't Miss This Year's Cascade Festival of African Films

Now in its 29th year, the fest serves up dozens of offerings from 18 countries.

By Jackson Main January 29, 2019

Rafiki, the first Kenyan movie to screen at Cannes, is a highlight of this year's Cascade Festival of African Films.

Now in its 29th year, the Cascade Festival of African Films is back with a new selection of documentaries, shorts, and features. Also on deck? Animated offerings, a week devoted to women filmmakers, and a staged reading of a play.

Another bonus: This time around, the monthlong festival won’t compete with the Portland International Film Festival for audiences (PIFF, which has long taken place in February, moves to March this year). That might help boost the average 5,000 attendees CFAF usually sees, says festival director Tracy Francis. “It’s a really amazing grassroots community event,” Francis says. “And it’s just a lot of fun.”

The festival was founded by four Portland Community College professors in 1991, with screenings of just four films, and has grown each year since. This year, it runs February 1–March 2, with films from 18 countries. “I think it’s rare to have something that celebrates African directors,” says Francis.

And did we mention that all screenings are free? Here's what you can't miss. 

Yomeddine (Egypt)

In Abu Bakr Shawky’s drama, a man named Beshay decides, after the death of his wife, to leave the leper colony where he was taken as a child and seek out his familial roots. Festival director Francis, who’s Egyptian-American, is especially excited for this feature. “For once it’s not about the revolution in Egypt," she says. "It’s just a really beautiful story about humanity. It’s nice to hear different narratives coming out of Egypt.” Yomeddine opens the festival on Friday, February 1, with 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. screenings at the Hollywood Theatre. Shawky will be in attendance at both.

Razzia (Morocco)

Razzia traces the lives of five people in Casablanca, jumping between 1982 and 2015. From a teacher fired for teaching in an indigenous language to women vying for independence, Nabil Ayouch's drama portrays a city on the brink of change. Noon Thu, Feb 14, PCC Cascade; 7 p.m. Fri, Feb 15, Hollywood Theatre

The Homecoming Queen (Nigeria)

It’s not all about the screen at this year’s fest. Portland theater mainstay Bobby Bermea directs a staged reading of a play by Ngozi Anyanwu, which follows a successful writer who returns home to Nigeria and confronts her culture, her past, and loss. Co-produced with theater company PassinArt, it features a cast of local actors. 2 p.m. Sat, Feb 16, PCC Cascade

Liyana (eSwatini, formerly Swaziland)

Here’s an unusual origin story: A group of orphans in Swaziland created the title character in this film by Aaron and Amanda Kopp. Part documentary, part animated story, Liyana jumps between fiction and reality as the children use their own experiences as material. The film—which currently has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes—screens as a family-friendly matinee, accompanied by a performance from the BRAVO Youth Orchestra, a nonprofit orchestra for underserved kids. 2 p.m. Sat, Feb 23, PCC Cascade

Rafiki (Kenya)

The first Kenyan film to screen at Cannes, Rafiki has grabbed headlines as a love story between two women in a country where same-sex relationships are not recognized. Variety praised Wanuri Kahiu's film, which has since been banned in Kenya, as "impossible not to celebrate." It closes out the festival in a co-presentation with PIFF. 7 p.m. Sat, March 2, PCC Cascade

Cascade Festival of African Films

Feb 1–Mar 2 (full schedule here), most screenings at PCC Cascade, FREE

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