Cascade Festival of African Films

Like my quest to read more books by non-western writers, I think it is important to watch more films by non-western filmmakers. It is helpful to all of us to have multiple perspectives and voices that we can use as tools to understand the world. That said, these films are surely different from western films not only in the types of stories that are told but also in presentation. Yet I feel it is important to not always expect the same formulaic entertainment that Hollywood often delivers, but instead to look at films as art, which has many forms and iterations.

Here are my picks from this year’s Cascade Festival of African Films in Portland. Oh, and did I mention that it is free?

1. State of Violence (South Africa) – A township boy turned business elite seeks his wife’s killer when the police investigation is moving too slowly for his liking. When he discovers the killer, he must face a secret from his past as an anti-apartheid revolutionary. Thursday, Feb. 23, at 12 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. at Portland Community College Cascade Campus, 705 N Killingsworth St., Portland, in the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building, Room 104.

2. Restless City (Nigeria/USA) – Director Andrew Dosunmu, who was born and raised in Nigeria, sets out to tell the story of the West African immigrant community in New York City. This feature film follows a Senegalese who dreams of being a musician but instead sells CDs on the street. When he falls in love with a prostitute, things become complicated. (This one already screened, but I thought it was worth mentioning as one to look for).

3. Seasons of a Life (Malawi) – The plot of this film looks pretty moving. When a man impregnates his housekeeper, he agrees to give her financial support if she will keep it a secret that he is the father. She uses the money to gain an education and puts the child into an orphanage, where he is soon adopted back to her former employer and his wife. Saturday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 at Portland Community College Cascade Campus, 705 N Killingsworth St., Portland, in the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building, Room 104.

4. Tinga Tinga Tales (Kenya/UK) – Since I have a little one, I couldn’t help but notice what is playing on Family Film Day. Tinga Tinga Tales, which air on both the BBC and the Disney Channel, are traditional African folklore that explain oddities about animals that every curious 5 year old wants to know. Why do frogs croak? Why crocodiles have bumps? The series is named for the late artist Tanzanian Edward Saidi Tingatinga’s work. Saturday, Feb. 25at McMenamin’s Kennedy School Theatre, 5736 NE 33rd Ave., Portland.

5. Hopeville (South Africa) – A father, who has been estranged from his son, moves with him from the big city to a small town. Wanting to build their relationship, the father sets out on a mission to restore the public pool so his son can pursue a swimming career. He is met with resistance from the townspeople, who unlike their town’s name are not so hopeful. Thursday, Feb. 16, at 1:45 and Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Portland Community College Cascade Campus, 705 N Killingsworth St., Portland, in the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building, Room 104.


Portland International Film Festival

February has two great film festivals in Portland – the Portland International Film Festival (Feb. 9 – 25) and the Cascade African Film Festival (Feb. 3 – March 3). Each year, I eagerly await the announcement of the films that will be screening. I read through the program, pick films that I would like to see and check my schedule to see which I can attend.

I never make it to more than two during the month, but despite my horrible theater-going track record, I always have a list of films that I come away with that I hope to stream from the Internet or watch on DVD from the comfort of my own home.

Here are a few of my picks for the PIFF from this year (Tomorrow I will write about the African Film Festival):

Portland International Film Festival

1Breathing (Austria) – The Austrian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, “Breathing” tells the story of a young man with a mistakenly troubled past whose parole officer finds him a job collecting cadavers. Through events at his job, he begins the search for his birth mother. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Cinemagic, 2021 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, and Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Lake Twin Cinema, 106 North State Street, Lake Oswego.

2. The Life of Fish (Chile) – This one doesn’t play on Valentine’s Day, but it is one of the films that looks most like it will have some romantic undertones. A travel writer is back home in Santiago where he attends a party. The whole night he avoids an old female friend, whose connection to him becomes more clear as the film unfolds. This also is up for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Saturday, Feb. 11, at 1 p.m. at Lloyd Mall 6, 2320 Lloyd Center Mall, Portland, and Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 6:15 p.m. at Pioneer Place 6, 340 SW Morrison St, Portland

3. Free Men (France) – This sounds like a breath of fresh air amidst current Middle Eastern tensions. This film tells the story of Muslims at a Paris mosque who sheltered Jews during World War II. Sunday, Feb. 12, at 5 p.m. at Lake Twin Cinema, 106 North State Street, Lake Oswego, Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 6 p.m. at Cinemagic, 2021 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, and Monday, Feb. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Lloyd Mall 6, 2320 Lloyd Center Mall, Portland.

4. The Front Line (South Korea) – As I am currently working on a project involving the Korean War, this film looks like a good one. Set on a fictitious hill that has passed between the north and south sides during the war, “The Front Line” gives some surprising vignettes of encounters between the two sides. This is South Korea’s Best Foreign Language Film submission for an Oscar this year. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. Whitsell Auditorium in the Portland Art Museum, 1219 Southwest Park Avenue, Portland.

5. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Turkey) – I’ve always wanted to visit Turkey, and this film looks like it promises some haunting landscapes as well as the intensity of a cops movie. A caravan travels through Turkey with a confessed killer searching for the place he buried his victim. Yet each time he points out the grave, the searchers come up empty. This is Turkey’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Sunday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at Cinema 21, 616 Northwest 21st Avenue, Portland, and Friday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. at Cinema 21. 

On my shelf: Upcoming lectures

“The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I’m really looking forward to diving into this book. I actually got two of them for Christmas. “The Thing Around Your Neck” is a collection of short stories by Adichie, who is from Nigeria.

I was first introduced to Adichie when I read the book “Gods and Soldiers,” an anthology of contemporary African writing, which showcases the myriad styles from across the continent, including both fiction and nonfiction.

She is speaking in Portland as a part of the Portland Arts & Lectures series on May 3, 2012. For tickets go to:

“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese.

Speaking of the Portland Arts & Lectures series, I should give a shout out to “Cutting for Stone,” which was one of the more gripping novels I read last year. “Cutting for Stone” tells the life story of two twins, who were born to a nun at a mission hospital in Ethiopia. The boys grow up through political upheaval in the country to both become doctors – one in the U.S. and one in Ethiopia.

Along the way, Verghese, who is a doctor, skillfully provides details that only a medical expert could. Let’s just say the end has the type of serendipitously brilliant conclusion that happens so very rarely in novels.

I saw him speak last year in Lake Oswego, and one of my colleagues wrote about the lecture here. For tickets to the April 12, 2012, lecture in Portland go to:

On my shelf: Two journalists

It’s been a month or so, but I scored a couple of good finds at Border’s going-out-of-business sale. The last weekend the store was open I stumbled into a half empty store with blazing yellow 80 and 90 percent off banners. Here are two books that I got:

“The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe” by Peter Godwin

I just started reading this, and it’s really good. I love me a good journalistic book on an African leader. Godwin writes with some authority having grown up in Zimbabwe. To report for this book, he goes where other journalists couldn’t have gone as he interviews people (some off the record) and recalls the events after Mugabe lost the 2008 election.

“Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran” by Roxana Saberi

The main reason that I picked this book up is because it is written by Saberi, a childhood role model of mine. As a teen growing up in North Dakota, I was a fan of hers when she became Miss North Dakota in 1997. As an Asian American in a primarily white state, I was excited to see another Asian American (Saberi is Japanese and Iranian) win. When I found out that she became a international journalist, I had even more to admire about her. So, I’m excited to see what her memoir reveals about the woman and her experiences being imprisoned in Iran as much as it does about her country of origin.

‘Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness’

Last week I bought an early copy of the newly released “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” by one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Fuller. I am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one because on Monday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. she will be at Powell’s in Portland on her book tour. Since it was a book reading a few years ago that first introduced me to Fuller’s work, it will be a treat to see her again.

In “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” Fuller revisits Africa and gives us a prequel to her first book and memoir, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.” In it she makes her quirky mother Nicola Fuller the star of the narrative, and I’m sure it will be equally insightful and humorous. Fuller has a way with words making the ordinary seem extraordinary and shining light and meaning on universal issues.

I reviewed her book “Scribbling the Cat” last year. Read it here.

In my queue

I’ve got a number of films on my radar to watch. Some are based on my attempts at learning Spanish, and others are based on my desire to learn about the world. Here’s what’s on my radar and how I plan to watch it.

Black Gold (2006)

Since coffee is a drink I consume (perhaps) too often, I’d love to learn about the inequalities in the coffee industry. This documentary is set in Ethiopia and follows an indigenous fair trade crusader as he works to bring change to policies of the World Trade Organization.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix


Como Agua Para Chocolate – Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

This is reputed to be one of the best Spanish-language films. Set in Mexico, Tita is forbidden to marry Pedro because according to tradition her older sister must marry first. When Pedro marries her sister, she is heartbroken and throws herself into her cooking.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other Spanish-language that I’d recommend: Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Maria Full of Grace (2004), Under the Same Moon (2007)


Beer Wars (2009)

Since I hail from the microbrew capital of the world, why wouldn’t I like to see the David and Goliath story of the beer industry? This documentary portrays how independent breweries compete with huge beer corporations, such as Budweiser and Miller. The story is told by two independent brewers who are crafting more innovative, better tasting beers.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other films that I’d recommend: Fast Food Nation (2006)


The Garden (2008)

In this documentary, a group of low-income families struggle to protect an urban farm from real estate developers in the middle of Los Angeles. Farmers go from relying on food stamps to growing their own food. Yet the farm’s location in the middle of the urban landscape is also a prime spot for the city of Los Angeles to plan warehouses.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other documentaries that I’d recommend: Food Inc. (2008)


Zanzibar Soccer Queens

Women who play soccer in Zanzibar, an island in East Africa that is predominately Muslim, are challenging the traditional role of women. This documentary follows the team Women Fighters, who are determined to shape new identities for themselves.

Where I plan to watch it: Portland Community College library collection

For more information visit:

Other documentaries that I’d recommend: Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

I have heard about the women of Liberia and their role in the end of the civil war in 2003. One of my friends who graduated recently from PSU’s graduate conflict resolution program told me about their bravery and faith in demanding peace in their country. But that’s where my knowledge ends, so I was excited to find out there is a screening in Portland of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary completed a few years ago. The film has been screened around the world to all sorts of groups NGO workers, downtrodden women, politicians and film lovers. It won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to the screening or just wait for it on Netflix, but for those interested in attending it is from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 21, at PCC Sylvania ST 101. For more information about the film, visit: