Lessons in Conflict
African films tackle violence, prejudice and cultural identity
2/4/2015, 2:40 p.m.
Portland Community College's Cascade Festival of African Films is going local.
The film festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a poignant local film about Somali girls from southeast Portland who come together to play basketball in a local recreation league. “Lessons of Basketball and War” also follows school principal Kevin Bacon, whose skills as an educator, leader and peace-maker are tested when the girls from the war-torn country are dropped into his life.
The documentary examines the roots of conflict between Somali ethnic groups and the challenges faced by those who attempt to resolve it here in Portland. The film has been an official selection for the 2014 Global Peace, Richmond International and Red Rock film festivals.
Portland writer, director and producer Ron Bourke, had the idea to make the movie after reading an article in the newspaper about a Somali girl’s basketball team put together by Bacon while he was principal at Hosford Middle School in southeast Portland.
Bourke said "Lessons of Basketball and War" explores universal issues of violence, prejudice, cultural identity and conflict resolution as seen through the eyes of the girls, who are refugees from war and famine in Somalia.
The film shows how the team, mostly Muslim, dealt with the sexualized, celebrity-obsessed America and the issues of the ethnic animosity that followed them to America from Somalia. The documentary follows a year in their lives and those of the educators and volunteers who helped them. The film will be shown at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28 as part of the festival's Student Fest Matinee at the Moriarty Auditorium on the Cascade Campus in north Portland.
"I'm honored to have my film featured at this year's festival and I am glad to have a screening here in Portland so that many of those involved with the production can have an opportunity to share it with family and friends,” Bourke said.
“Lessons" highlights a busy festival, which will feature 34 films and host 10 visiting film directors in February. The Cascade film series is the longest-running annual African film festival in the United States and runs from Friday, Feb. 6 through Sunday, March 8 and shows films ranging from full-length features to documentaries and short films.
More than 5,000 people attend the festival annually. All films will be shown in the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building on the Cascade Campus., with the opening night and the centerpiece film screenings at the Hollywood Theatre. The festival is free and open to the public.
"The Cascade Festival of African Films is one of the most exciting and treasured educational and cultural events in Portland," said long-time film festival organizer Mary Holmstrom, who is a native of South Africa.
The series not only enlightens and educates Americans about Africa through films by Africans, but it also provides Portland-area African immigrants and refugees with the opportunity to be represented and understood when their respective cultures are brought to life on the big screen, Holmstrom said.
This year, the Cascade Festival of African Films offers a Retrospective Series of the festival's top-10 films through its 25-year history on each Sunday of the schedule. In addition, there will be a Student Fest for high school and college-age students, and a Family Fest featuring films for children. Women Filmmakers Week will welcome four female directors to PCC for panel discussions about their films.
Another highlight from this year festival takes place on opening night with a screening of "Half of a Yellow Sun" at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6, at the Hollywood Theatre.
Based on the award-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the film balances deep personal drama against a broad canvas of national upheaval. Beginning with Nigeria's independence in 1960, the film centers on twin sisters from a prominent Lagos family who make very different life choices. The film's showing is followed by a discussion with director Biyi Bandele.
Family Fest Matinee will be hosted by Baba Wagué Diakité of Mali and features the film "Felix" at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Moriarty Auditorium. The film centers on 13-year-old Felix's dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father, but his mother thinks jazz is the devil's music. When Felix is awarded a scholarship for grade eight at an elitist private school, he defies his mother and turns to two aging members of his father's old band to help him prepare for the school jazz concert.
For a complete Cascade Festival of African Films schedule and rundown of films, visit africanfilmfestival.org.