African Film Festival Wraps up 27th Year
by Mountain Barber
The 27th annual Cascade Festival of African Films, which ran from early February through the beginning of March, is the longest running African film festival in the United States. It featured 23 films from across Africa, ranging from an homage to Prince to documentaries to readings of plays. Free showings of all the films were shown both at Cascade campus and at the Hollywood Theater.
The film festival homage to Prince, “Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai / Rain the Color Blue With a Little Red in It” opened up the festival. The Nigerian film is the first narrative feature film ever made in the Taureg language.
Other movies featured in the festival include Checks and Balances, a documentary about the dissident Algerian newspaper Al Watan; Eye of the Storm, a psychological thriller about a lawyer defending a war criminal and former child soldier; and Miners Shot Down, a documentary about the murder of 34 striking South African miners by police in 2012.
I had the luck to catch a screening of the Egyptian film “Nawara” at the Hollywood Theater on February 17th. “Nawara” is set just after the 2011 Egyptian revolution when Mubarak was overthrown. It follows the life of the titular character Nawara, a maid for a wealthy Egyptian family in a wealthy gated community.
Nawara has been married for five years to Ali, but they haven’t yet been able to consummate the marriage since they cannot afford to move in together. (This is apparently a pretty common theme in Egyptian novels and films.) Every day she wakes up early to fill jugs from a communal faucet a long walk away. She then heads to the hospital where her father-in-law, ill with cancer, waits on the corridor floor for a bed to open up. From there, she boards multiple forms of transportation to reach her job as a maid.
The comparison between Nawara’s life and that of her employers is shocking. The family that she works as a maid for is wealthy from their connections to the Mubarak regime. While Nawara lives in a cramped single room with no running water with her grandmother, her employers’ immense house has a lawn and a pool. Their dog, Butch, eats better than Nawara or most of her neighbors. When their wealthy friends and neighbors begin to be arrested for their actions in the Mubarak regime, though, Nawara’s employers begin to debate fleeing the country.
Nawara somehow manages to keep a cheerful and upbeat attitude towards life throughout all of this. She manages to stay compassionate and cheerful towards everyone around her (excepting Butch the dog, who she’s terrified of). The longer Nawara stays optimistic in the face of all her problems and the problems of those around her, the more depressing it felt- but it was the kind of depressing you want in a film.
“Nawara” is, in a word, superb. Many subtitled films create an extra layer between the viewer and the actors, but I often forgot that the film was in Arabic entirely. While many of the tropes were different than what I was used to, they all made perfect sense in the context of the film. This is apparently the first Egyptian film to feature an Caucasian-Nubian interracial kiss, as well.
For more information about the Cascade Festival of African Films, visit www.africanfilmfest.org
Most films from previous years can be checked out from the PCC Library.